Sunday, December 30, 2012

164 Monday Musings: A Humbling 2012

164 Monday Musings: A Humbling 2012

The last Monday of every year begets a musings. This is the fifth new year that my musings are witnessing and for strange reasons of sentimental indulgence i went back and read the previous four. I don't know what i was searching, may be dots that i could connect in retracing the last four year ends that may assure me that i was not only growing old but at least in some ways also growing up. Midway through this exercise i lose interest and i sit down with a fairly empty mind and still fingers on the keyboard.

2012 was an year of breaking certitudes for me. For every truism an equal and opposite revealed itself - in full measure and with its own validity. 
The world appeared to have returned from an economic brink but not quite, as many responsible nations continued to play too close to the cliff. Old theaters of strife and violence continued unabated and new social and political fault lines were discovered. Countries and communities were messed up in the past, while increasingly there is evidence of individuals being messed up. There is no lager cause in the name of which they perpetrate the havoc, but just a sick mind, devoid of sanity and humanity seeking closures. There is solution to the former but i am scared that there is none to the later.

An year can be humbling when it reveals within a short span of 12 months the follies of certitudes, the meaninglessness of permanence. So many opposite can sit together in close proximity - unbridled joy with soul choking grief,  the liberation of endless possibilities with the blankness of Cul de sac, the assurance of confidence with sinking feeling of vulnerability, the vitality of companionship with the disillusionment of relationships, the energy of hope with the gloom of despair, the light of clarity with the shadows of ambiguity. If only the year could have been clearly skewed decisively towards one way, one could have blamed the times, destiny or luck. The fact that the extremes co existed in harmony and in full measures, only reveals its true design - to humble man. The man who had forgotten humility must be reminded. I am reminded to look for 'good in the bad and bad in the good' in 2013.

Here is a list of my resolutions for 2013 in no order of preference - 
Be healthy - run at least 4 marathons (2 in 2011, 3 in 2012, so 4 in 2013 is progress)
Write regularly and widely (31 musings in 2011 but 27 in 2012 is not progress)
Substantial effort to re skill for the next 10 years (Read, Read, Teach, Coach)
Finish the first book (Critical - enough is enough)
Spend significant time with kids (To make everything else worth it)

....and while all of this is being attempted, remember that life must not be taken too seriously - it has a mind of its own. 

Happy 2013. 


Sunday, December 23, 2012

163 Monday Musings: The NaMo Juggernaut and Leadership Lessons

163 Monday Musings: The NaMo Juggernaut and Leadership Lessons

The Narendra Modi juggernaut is on its roll, winning the Gujarat assembly election third time in a row. My views about NaMo have wavered with time. Immediately after 2002, I hated him for what had happened under his tutelage despite a wide range of opinions on his role therein, ranging from complicity at worst or tacit approval at best. During his second tenure I happened to tour Gujarat a few times and got a first hand insight on the reasons for his popularity - of decisive action, standing strong behind his core constituency and an imagery of strength and bravado as a subtext this positioning. Much later as i toured the state on its state highways, i knew for sure that Vibrant Gujarat was not a mere slogan, and as far as development, infrastructure, ease of doing business etc is concerned, the state was well ahead of most others. For all the heat and dust that NaMo generates depending upon your political views, its difficult not to give the devil its due - that along with his personal integrity, non involvement in any corruption scandal and his deft & decisive administration, puts him as a top quartile CM India ever had. But this is not about ranting NaMos achievements, but in the context of his poorly comuflaged ambitions to become the PM, here are some leadership lessons one can learn from the way this entire issue is currently poised.

#1. Watch the path you take to go up - for others are watching it too.
The methods employed to be successful at the current stage must be evaluated comprehensively, for they become memories for others. People around you start associating you with the methods you employ to move up the ladder and soon memories of a few becomes your reputation for the lakhs. You become a shadow of your methods and the shadow never leaves. Your methods might get you hero worshiped by a few today but might isolate a lot more for the future. Manipulation, arithmetic's of convenience and petty opportunism might win you a few battles today but will become handicaps when you become a general.   

#2. Leaders need to be inclusive - when you belong to some, you end up not belonging to others. At the bottom of the rung its enough to mean the world to some but at the highest level , you must mean something to the entire world. Obama in his victory speech said it so eloquently when he said that it was his pleasure to be the President not only to the democrats and who voted for him, but also to the republicans and those who did not vote for him. Leaders might belong to a constituency to begin with - constituency of people, segments, philosophies, but as they mature and grow up, they must expand to involve and include others. At the highest levels of leadership the worst thing that can happen to leaders when the boundaries he created to include some also become the boundaries that exclude many more. 

#3. Memories have a strange way of coming back - Many depend upon the proverbial short memories of the masses and believe that at a later state a brand re-positioning will do the trick. At the highest level even a speck of the past can become a blot and quite miraculously just when you thought people had forgotten about things, they seem to remember it. A past indiscretion, error of judgement, inability to take a position so on and so forth can pretty much be a reason enough to make people doubt your acceptability and suitability for the big job. Just when you thought no one was noticing you, they were. Just when you thought people had forgotten, guess what - they have not.

#4. What you can do AND how you make people feel - Effective and successful administration is not a sufficient condition to make you a great leader. Most fascist leaders began by providing better conditions to their people, most autocrats wreck havoc on their people in the name of the good of their subjects. Leadership is not only about benefits, execution - its also about how you make people feel. Do people feel liberated, can they dissent without the fear of reprisal, do they feel heard, are they treated as adults, do people feel comfortable in thier being different and thinking differently? Leaders can argue a lot about what they can do and what they have done, backing it up with promises, facts and figures, but they cannot control how people feel about them. As a nice internet forward says, 'People forget what you did for them, but remember how you made them feel'. Leaders get the point or lose the plot on this funny little amorphous and uncontrollable thing called feeling. 


Sunday, December 2, 2012

162 Monday Musings: Zen Marathonism

162 Monday Musings: Zen Marathonism

I had always considered running a pretty boring pursuit, an effort so needlessly undertaken, the meaningless huffing and puffing, a voluntary but punishing load on the lung and the limb putting your own balance of mind under a shadow of doubt. That was many Monday's ago. I ran my fifth half marathon today and its a significant personal milestone in two ways. One its a personal best timing but more importantly this was the first time that i did not stop even once in the course of 21kms - and therein hangs my musing.

James Mallory, an ace mountaineer and according to some hypothesis, 'possibly' the first person to scale the Mount Everest (for more on that read 'Paths of Glory' by Jeffery Archer), in response to a question in 1922 as to why do they climb peaks said so eloquently and poetically ".......So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for" Marathoning is pretty much like this - sheer joy, pure, unadulterated, sublime, uplifting! It teaches you so much and reminds you much more.

It teaches you that nothing worthwhile can come without toil, hours and hours of mind numbing practice, even when no perceptible improvement is visible; tending to the garden with sage like calm even when green shoots are nowhere to be seen. It teaches you that every kilometer that passes under your feet takes everything in you, every milestone will extract its pound of flesh - letting you have nothing for free. It teaches you that every subsequent kilometer will appear longer than the last one, and will challenge you harder, forcing you to access the last ounce of your willpower and resolve - and you almost hear yourself torn between the pain and purpose - pain screaming that you are done with it and purpose egging you to stay on course just a little while longer. It has taken me five runs and close to two years to let purpose win over pain. Marathons teach you patience and perseverance more than anything else - for a long run will not cede anything to  the runner with ease. It teaches you to be humble - not to take yourself and your abilities too seriously - for there is always a challenge in life that is larger than us.  

Marathon remind you much more. It reminds you of your limitations more than anything else. It reminds you that at the end you are human. It reminds you that even in completion, the run is larger than the runner, that completing it only makes you miss the run even more badly. The runner is sandwiched between the agonizing wait for the run and the immediate vacuum it leaves as soon as it finished - the 'communion' lasts only for the duration of the run. Marathon reminds you that the truest victory is victory over yourself and your limitations. It reminds you that there always is a challenge out there that is just outside your reach, and in trying to surmount it, the best and the worst in you reveals itself. Marathons force you to deal with your incompleteness, the rough edges and the dignity (or the lack of it) with which you deal with them  reveals your character. 

I have understood myself better through my tryst and trials with marathons and so would you, should you chose to.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

161 Monday Musings: A reluctant Hero

161 Monday Musings: A Reluctant Hero
He would not be more than thirty two or three may be. The conversation begins with the proverbial small talk. In the course of his life story, he shares that he says he has two sons, one fourteen and the other far younger and i kid with him if he had a child marriage. He smiles but with an effort and continues.

He was like any other young guy, fired with an ambition to do better, rise up the ranks, take the baton forward and hand over to his next generation a situation better than what he had inherited. He falls in love outside the permissible boundaries, the kind of boundaries that exist aplenty, bereft of logic and devoid of substance - but sticks to his decision despite predictable opposition. Soon the two were to get on to build a 'happily thereafter' world for themselves.

A few rains down the years, but a few weeks before they were to wed, life throws at him a strange gauntlet, which is not really his making, but which he cannot watch from the sidelines. His wife's elder sister and her husband meet with a fatal accident leaving behind a ten year old son. Intense thoughts tear the household about the future course of action that needs to be taken with regards to the young boy, and for reasons peculiar to the story, it finally comes down to whether his wife is the best person to take responsibility for the boy.

It was not a simple decision for him. Most discouraged him, few remained non-committal and probably no one encouraged him. The prospect of inheriting a ten year old boy along with the marriage was daunting in many ways - the least of which was inheriting a life long financial commitment. It meant immense emotional investment, it meant dealing with uncertianity about how the peculiar relationship will pan out, it meant dealing with the vagaries of a pre-teen mind who was dealing not only a soul shattering trauma but was also about to deal with the emotional vulnerability of  the what was to come. It meant becoming a parent much before nature meant you to be one. It meant the onerous task of becoming a father much before you learnt the tricks of becoming a husband. 

He agreed - not as much because it was the right thing to do, or a moral decision, or a responsible stand, but because he loved his to be wife. This was the right thing to do, because she wanted this to happen. He would have been fine with any other decision too if his to be wife would have so desired. Its overwhelming to hear the story at this stage, in the realization  how larger than life he is, and just how puny most of us are. Then he clarifies that his decision should not be given a higher nobility than what it deserves, for he did agree to this, or would have agreed to do anything else, should his would be wife had so wanted. It was only about one thing - he loved her and wanted her to be happy.

I get the point. Love - such a beautiful thing - if it had not existed, we would have had to invent it, and he is the hero of the story, much against his wishes.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Monday Musings 160: The Good in the Bad

Monday Musings 160: The Good in the Bad

There are many mysteries in life that baffle me. Why do good people do bad things, and why do bad people good things. Who are these good people we have read so much about and who are these bad people we hear so much about.

Human mind is a strange hiding place. We store so much in it. We don't always store only the event in it, but our interpretation of it and also the feelings it evoked. Soon the cupboards are overflowing.  An event decades ago can still rattle, prick as reminder of destiny's betrayal of how we wanted the script to flow - the thorn not fatal, but just there. 

Cognitively we can explain a lot, put in perspective, dissect logically, analyse dispassionately and reach a 'mature' conclusion - that this how it was supposed to be, that no one is to blamed for the unfairness of things, that one does not get all that one wants, and that imperfection is the nature of life and we must live with the difference of what we wanted and what we got. 
'What do we really want' is no longer a mere existential angst for the intellectual - its a real question that real people ask. We want financial security, emotional understanding, intellectual acknowledgement  respect as an equal, physical compatibility, success and meaning from our pursuit - all rolled into one and in an equal measure. And we want all. Absence of even one is unacceptable  The psychotherapist will say that this expectation is not fair and we cannot have the cake and eat it too, but for the human mind, let the therapist be damned, for he knows not the peculiarity of human want - 
Dil be ek nadaan bache ki maanind hai
ya to ise sab kuch chahiye, ya kuch bhi nahi
(The heart is like a child; either it wants all or nothing)

And then that big bang dilemma. Do you live with things they are, alone in your agony, for those who listen to it will most likely dissect it cognitively based on facts and/or the restrictive duality of right-wrong, and will miss the plot altogether or say "what the hell - this is one life and we want all the joy, pleasure and meaning that we can pack into it; Time is flying and we will redeem whatever we can; Life may have dealt with cards that it did, but we will play them the way we want; that we will take the leap of faith and do what may not be obvious/normal/usual, but as long as it 'feels' right, it will be done. Most spend entire lives in the interlude of this dilemma, torn between what they think they deserve and the extent they will go to get it. 
Life is playing out in strange ways around us. Good people are doing bad things and bad people are doing good things. The only reason i hold my judgement is what a filmy phrase says it eloquently, "if its so wrong, why does it feel so good'


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Monday Musings 159- The prophecy

Monday Musings 159- The prophecy

It was a bad Monday morning. The weekend hangover was still strong. I had traveled a hundred kms into the heart of rural western Uttar Pradesh, having got up in the wee hours of a very chilly winter morning. The icy air had a somnolent effect. The prospect of meeting the doctor and detailing to him the dry subject of disease in the course of my profession as a medical representative was very depressing. I was outside the government hospital in Bijnaur. Disease and the diseased were scattered all over in a chaotic design - some frantically searching for a ray of the sun for warmth; others having lost the effort, sitting in the shade. The crowd had an array of faces- young and lethargic, old and wrinkled, motherly and anxious, avuncular and hopeless, matronly and pale. Overall not a very likeable place to be in. "The doctor is out- will be back in an hour" declares the attendant. "Its ok" I reply politely, but mutter under my breath ‘shit!’. I gaze around forlorn and lost- going over the options I have to kill time. Disease, pain and suffering around do not touch me. Very much like mercury which does not wet the surface its put on. "I am here for work" I remind myself.
Suddenly I see another turbaned creature and I smile to myself.  Having nothing else to do I move up to him. He responds. He smiles. We share a handshake. And then we indulge in the favorite pastime of all Indians in general - We ask each other his religion, caste, region, district, dialect, school, college favorite cricketer, most hated politician, the bad state of our polity etc. We search for some commonality of shared interest or experience. It helps build sufficient rapport to kill time outside bus-stands, railways stations or hospitals. Thankfully our discussion restricts itself to the obvious and mundane.
Are you married?" he asks. "No I am still happy" I reply. He releases something between a chuckle and a grunt. "And you?" I quip. "I am happily married" he replies. I smile at the difference of perspective. By now I have taken a liking for the person. He is talkative, lively and spontaneous. He must have been around 40. "Do you believe in stars?" I ask. He gives me a deep look and falls silent. After a while he says, almost philosophically "No I believe in destiny".
I am not sure if I had asked the right question. After an interlude he starts speaking, slowly but with increasing firmness "During my early adulthood a soothsayer had predicted that I will have three children. I had scoffed at the idea. I believed in a two-child policy. So when my wife gave birth to our second daughter I had her tubectomy done. I was suddenly reminded of the soothsayer and laughed. Later one of the medical check ups revealed that my wife was excreting too much of proteins. Then began, what was to culminate into an unending saga of medical examinations. Her kidneys had failed her."
"I was a mute spectator while her condition deteriorated. I knew her days were limited. Today when I sit back in retrospect, the kaleidoscope of the past is hazy. There was no time then to feel the grief- to understand and let sink the gravity of the realization that she was dying - every moment, slowly but irrevocably. She slipped through my grip like sand. One moment she was there, the other she had gone. She had cheated me. How could I have allowed her to die? She died four years ago and I was actually relieved, that she would not suffer any longer. We both had fought valiantly. She fought her disease. I fought the agony. We both lost."
He stood silent. As if the effort of reminiscence was too taxing. I did not know what to say. I too stood silent.
After a while he resumed "I remarried last year. She had lost her husband in the dengue epidemic. She has a son. So now I am a proud father of three children. And incidentally, happily married. The prophecy had been correct"
The sun had turned warm. "The doctor is in" a faint voice seemed to be calling from a distance.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

158 Monday Musings -Voltaire reloaded

158 Monday Musings -Voltaire reloaded

Voltaire is a 18th century philosopher who had an interesting life. I am not a student of philosophy as that is an esoteric pursuit, much beyond the limits of my comprehension and capacity, but many quotes attributed to Voltaire that i read or heard did leave me impressed. So one fine day i decided to search famous quotes on the net by Voltaire and i present here my top 10. Enjoy the breathtaking expanse of his comments, the dry wit of his observations, the fun he pokes at the establishment, the dig he takes at the norms and popular beliefs and it is precisely because of the levity and frivolity with which he observes life that he renders himself so profound. No wonder he was exiled in his life time - if he was around today much worse would have happened to him. Enjoy his quotes followed by my take on them in the spirit of Voltaire.

1. “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.” - it is absolutely fine to lie to the living because truth can hurt very badly, but a corpse is a different kettle of fish.

2. “Governments need to have both shepherds and butchers.” - and shepherds are mostly butchers in disguise. 

3.“Love truth, but pardon error.” - For those love truth too much are unimaginable bores or a intolerable prudes.

 4. “It is one of the superstitions of the human mind to have imagined that virginity could be a virtue.” - I will let Voltaire have the last word on this.

5. “It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong.” - Conscious stupidity can save lives. 

6. "There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.” - What they taught us in school about honesty can safely be regarded as redundant.

7. "The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” - So just shut up.

8.“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” -God needs us more than we need him..

9.“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” - so that we one absurdity can be matched with yet greater absurdity.

10.“Illusion is the first of all pleasures.” - No wonder i feel so pleased these days.



Saturday, October 20, 2012

Monday Musings 157- The Sen in the Singh

Monday Musings 157- The Sen in the Singh

Linguistically i was born a punjabi speaking, officially belonging to the faith of Sikhism, but through strange vagaries of migration of my forefathers, I grew up in rural Jharkhand, almost in the forgotten backland of tribal Chotanagpur. Growing up with close friends who were either Tribals or Biharis, i was to become a cultural khichdi at worst or a salad bowl at best.  Incidentally there was a significant Bengali diaspora, what they refer to as probashi Bengali, that was working in the nearby cement plant, and as they say, three Bengali is a durga pooja pandal. This is my attempt to relive pujo, drawing from the memories of my early childhood and seen through the eyes of a probashi sardar, if at all such a nomenclature exists.

Sikh religious festivals are at best one day long, and all the festivals would mean only one thing - go to the gurudwara, pray, eat langar and it was over, before it began. I would never understand, seeing my Bengali friends preparing for the pujo, how can a festival last for close to a month. I would go nuts in my child mind, how in gods name can one start talking, planning, organizing, fretting for one full month for something that was a religious festival. All my Bengali class fellows would start getting animated on the new clothes they would ask for, gifts they would haggle for, and things they would generally do weeks before the October razzmatazz.  I also never understood what is the correlation of extensive shopping with a festival. I felt cheated or lied to by my own parents as they would not consider even the prospect of buying a pin during any of 'our' festivals. How i wished those days that i was a Sen and not a Singh!!

The other memory that i have is of the dhaki, the drummers and the dance in the pandal. If my own bhangra is energising,  then the dance with the rhythmical dhaki, rising to a crescendo with the camphor smoke bellowing out of the lamp in the dancers hand is nothing short of being mystical. One could just let his soul into that performance and forget that it was just a dance. As a child if i saw joy in the bhangra dances of my own ilk, there was something else on the face of those dancers which i could not describe then but which i know now - it was trance - something that links the devotee to the Godess, a communion similar to the Turkish dervishes' revolving dance form.
For almost a week and particularly the last four days, from sashti till the tenth day of dasmi, the sleepy hamlet would come alive - for the devout, it was a worship, for us it was a freedom. As a child i knew i would have fun, will be allowed to go out at odd hours, the return-to-home- time limits would be made flexible, pocket money would be increased - and as long as that happened, who cared whose festival it was - for all i cared with the extra money in my pocket, it was mine. Pujo also meant that we would get a few extra hours away from the protective/restrictive, gaze of parents and because it was a rare occasion when we would see the other gender beyond the bland school dress, I also remember, many a silent romances blossoming or getting nipped in the bud. Finally the visarjan or the immersion procession would mean hours of mindless dancing and returning late, legs tired and mind joyous. Who cared, whether i was a Sen or a Singh!! 

I discovered a life long love with cultural peculiarities perhaps during those day, which was to only heighten with age. A vivid memory is the sight of gorgeous Bengali women, with white sarees and bright red borders, worn so differently and elegantly, playfully applying sindoor to all others - the festival merging with festivities, the personal merging with social, the 'I' merging with  'we'. The sight would stay on for years. 
I developed a life long affair with Bengali cuisine right then and declared that the misthi doi,  a unique sweet yoghurt, should be declared a drug for its addictive qualities.

I took my daughter yesterday to the pujo celebrations hoping that she would discover that how grateful i am to life, which has allowed a Sen lurking beneath the Singh.!!

Happy Pujo



Sunday, October 14, 2012

156 Monday Musings: God for the Young

156 Monday Musings: God for the Young

Some conversations can lead to blogs, this is one of those.

As a parent myself and as an observer of parenting, i have witnessed many ways in which hobbies and habits are attempted to be inculcated in the young ones by excited and overzealous parents. There are two extremes in parenting - the "the child will figure things out- and i should keep away" types and at the other end is the "i need to know everything-i will control everything" (i think the term in vogue is helicopter parenting). Most fall in between. The object of intervention could be anything - dance, poetry, dramatics, painting, sports so on and so forth.

The two areas that i do not see much focus during parenting is 'managing money' and 'developing a religious/spiritual consciousness' - its the later that will be my focus today.

Religion and its true pursuit, spirituality, which come along with their myriad definitions, connotations and worldviews is not on the menu of 'things to do' for the child development, either because this subject is too overwhelming to an average adult, or he/she does not find it important enough. The belief probably is that this is an adult subject and the child will find his bearing on the religion he follows or the God he believes in on his own as he grows up.

If we believe history, then religion makes adults do strange things - from wars to persecution, from intolerance to bigotry, many wrongs have been committed in the name of some religion or some God. But does religion do any good to a child or an adolescent or better still, can it do any good to a growing up child?

I believe that developing and helping the child build a relationship with God based on conversation and not reverence can do a world of good to her. Taking the child to community place of worship, making her a part of community rituals of all kind and talking through those rituals make her develop a sense of community, which in this case may be of a limited kind as it is based on only shared faith/religion, but will go a long way in teaching her the merits of community life, which will come in handy when she does find the wisdom to belong to some community based on her free choice. Too many adults live the lives of a loner, may be because no one taught them to belong. Belonging takes courage, conviction and practice. 

Experiencing places of worship and a conversation with a supreme power can be a good surrogate to teach the distinction of good and bad, right and wrong to an early mind, which at this stage is not ready to make that distinction based only on virtues like objectivity, rationality, ethics and principles. God or the idea of God becomes an anchor, to which the young rudderless mind can hold on to in times when she is unable to understand the vagaries and unpredictability of the world around her. This anchor and the relationship with God, however must be built and based on conversations and not purely on reverence, as it most often than not is the reality. God can be a friend for the young soul, to look for direction, for guidance and company to talk to, rather than a power that only punishes the offenders of the rules set by elders. 

This is not the end of it however. All this while we must also provide the child enough sense of inquiry, enough sense of curiosity and most importantly enough sense of independent thinking, so that as she grows up she can question everything that we would have taught her, even the notion of God - and should she then conclude that God did not exist, or He was not worth the fuss, or all this brohuha about the right and wrong is a cartload of crap, then by all means allow her to conclude so. 
An atheist based on inquiry and intellect is better than a believer without discovery. God can be a good rudder for the young. 


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Monday Musings 155: My experiments with the TV.

Monday Musings 155: My experiments with the TV.

Do not be led astray with the title, i have no intention to experiment with the various shades of truth that the other Gandhi ever did. One of the modern day truth is the TV and going by its ubiquitous presence and a vice like grip on the modern day life, i had always wondered, what would it be like to have no TV in life - and there in lies the tale!

I changed cities close to a month ago and i decided to take the leap of faith by ripping off the umbilical chord with which the TV is linked to our lives, called the set top box or the cable. So its been a month that the cacophonous presence of the idiot box does not hang in my humble abode. These days has been like the days in the rehabilitation center so to speak, cleansing the body and the soul of the last drop of an addiction, that begins with harmless experiment, but ends up asking for more and more. That is how the addiction to TV begins - watching a few programs here and there, aimless surfing of channels without a time limit, program hopping so that one knows broadly something about everything, but not everything about something, an echo of mediocrity symptomatic of our lives these days. 
I would love to do a psychological study of creating a typology of people basis the programs they watch and the way they watch them. In his mind the viewer is sophisticated and intellectual and believes he watches only Discovery, History and Bloomberg - in reality that is only a rare viewership if at all, and the bulk of viewing is purely psychedelic, voyeuristic, vicarious, dramatic and sensational, whether in the kind of news, serials, or the reality programs watched. The viewer could be any of the following.
The escapist - one who watches reality programs that he wont do or cant do, but always wanted to do. The cheap thrills, the artificial excitement, the fake suspense is his staple. 
The dramatist - one who believes that life is lived in a hyperbole, conversations must be peppered by punchlines and there are no families who go to work (because most of them are either having and affair, marrying, divorcing or remarrying, scheming or being schemed against)
The drifter - who watches the same thing many times over, or the same news in 5 different channels in a kind of stupor that only addiction can create
The lonely - one who does not care what is only the TV, as long as something is playing, preferably at loud volume, that fills the vacuum of inactivity or a meaningful pursuit or a worthwhile interest in his life
The armchair sportsman - one whose notion of a physical activity is changing channels on the remote, or going to the loo during breaks but will watch everything from the T-20 to the latest Kabaddi match and to add insult to injury will have an expert opinion on everything about the sport.

Coming back to a month without the TV around, the initial days you experience something amiss in life, a yawning gap that is inexplicable but thunderous. The silence in the home is deafening before it is irritating- the only noise is family talking to each other, something that you are not used to. There is genuine time available with everyone and in the first few days no one knows what to do with it. The child is discovering books, activity, park et al because she needs all the sources to kill time that has suddenly available. The spouses can easily find 15 minutes anytime to do the chit chat that is the hallmark of domestication, without having to wait the day to end, otherwise a post-dinner-TV chore, by which time in any case they were too tired for any  conversation. 
TV is an addiction because it consumes you without your participation - one can watch it for hours completely disengaged and it wont notice or take offence. But other pursuits like reading or jogging or gyming requires engagement, it asks for your involvement and efforts. In the absence of TV, precious bandwidth gets released from life that can be then be channelized. 

In the past i have asked so many about not having a TV at home and each time i was told that it would be hard on the child. I guess, its harder on the adult who never takes the plunge.

For those who still have a TV, enjoy watching.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

154 Monday Musings: Good-byes

154 Monday Musings: Good-byes

Good-byes can mean so many things. Good-byes often come along with some kind of discontinuity, a departure from the usual, a shift from how things are or have been. Good-byes mean separation, distancing, moving away, sometimes permanently. Humankind generally does not like good-byes. All of us are comfortable with certain kind of departures and discontinuities and uncomfortable with other kinds of good-byes. Often the enormity of good-bye is determined by the number of discontinuities it will cause and the number of relationships it will distance us from and what do those relationships mean to us. Adults find good-byes more traumatic because with increasing age they have less and less left to offer to new ones, so a good-bye for them is like an investment gone bad. Their own emotional poverty scares them when its time to say good-bye.  

How does one deal with good-byes? Each one of us has built a certain threshold to good-byes called the good-bye tolerance and a good-bye response mechanism over the lives we have lived. Good-bye tolerance indicates how much of the strain caused by the good-bye are you able to take in your stride. Do good-byes disturb you generally? Does the prospect of going away, separation, and realizing that the presence of people around you, that you had got so used to, almost to the point of believing it to be a permanent presence, causes something to churn inside you - or are you comfortable with the thought. Do you lose sleep and are generally irritated by that thought in an otherwise perfect life? The amiss is inexplicable, the void is undescribable, the vacuum is like a footsore, not fatal but reminding you of an imperfection at every step - the only difference that its an heartsore and not a footsore!!

The good-bye response mechanism is the methods we chose or have practiced to perfection to deal with those changes that come along with good-byes. Some immerse themselves in other pursuits with a vengeance to take their mind away from the turmoil unleashed by the good-bye. Others shut themselves out - withdraw into themselves and try to make themselves 'vulnerability proof'. Some will deny, others will resign. Some will curse, others will squeal. Some will be quiet others will be vocal. Some will express others will hold.  

I have wondered what goes on in the mind and heart of the person undergoing a good-bye. Does he feel the heaviness in his solar plexus, the dryness in his throat, the dullness of his senses, the bottomlessness in his mind, the numbness in his thoughts, the abyss in his heart? Do adults feel the same as adolescents even if they retain the bravado and the aura of self control? Does the calm, the certainty around the eventuality make the feeling of unease any less significant? Finally do you express or do you still remain in control. Adulthood is such a strange business.

I stand at the cusp - the point where one journey ends and the next one begins. There is the burden of a good-bye at this moment that i have to bear. There is a burden of attachment, likings, fondness, respect, awe - and may be a strange concoction of all of the above, which some call love. As i bid good-bye to so many, i want to say to them " I leave behind a part of me with you - hold it with you and i take with me a part of you that i will hold dear". I have said good-byes too many times in life and i tell myself they don't matter and they don't bother me much. I guess i try too hard to tell myself that and betray my  feelings.

Good Bye.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

153 Monday Musings: Doing things differently and more

153 Monday Musings: Doing things differently and more

Shiv Khera brought this to the popular consciousness by declaring that winners did not do different things, but did it differently. I shall not get into whether this describes complete truth or a slice of it, instead i shall recount an instance that caught my fancy recently that bears some  testimony to the above maxim.

We all travel by airlines and listen to the inflight demonstration of safety instructions with ennui and ill concealed disinterest. I would be very surprised if even a frequent flyer will be able to discern the difference between the instructions of any two airlines. The monotone of most announcers and their own apparent lack of conviction in what they are speaking does not help either. It is amidst this banality and undifferentiated mediocrity, one cannot help but notice the script of the IndiGo airlines during their in flight instruction. No wonder they currently rule the skies today and are the largest domestic carrier today. A classic case of doing things differently and benefiting from it. 

The IndiGo announcer would among other things speak about the various languages that the crew speak on that give day. They would also comment that they knew that most of flyers would be disinterested to listen to them that we should still listen to them for our safety. 

What amazes me is not that their script is different from others because of all the elements of the flying experience of an airline, the nature, quality and delivery of the inflight safety instruction is not a differentiator or even a determinant of customer satisfaction. It is precisely for its inherent mundane-ness and a very low pecking order of importance that makes IndiGo's effort to be different even there makes it so notice worthy. 

My lesson goes a bit deeper than 'being different' - be different even when and where people do not expect you to be. Differentiation, the classical strategic concept applied to organisations, products or people has some obvious indicators. The world expects you to be different at the obvious levels. The question is, can we be, retain and sustain 'being different' at levels that no one expects us to be - levels where no one would notice except our own quality consciousness, our own sense of dedication. Probably one reaches that stage when you are not being different for being different sake, but when you create value from being different. Its not showmanship or brownies that you are accumulating, but delivering credible value.

Finally a word of caution - have something different before you claim it or else it will the case of the famous Maggi Hot and Sweet tomato sauce - its been more than a decade that i am searching for what is so 'different' in it - i guess even Javed Jaffri is still searching.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

152 Monday Musings: Two and a half seconds in 100 years

152 Monday Musings: Two and a half seconds in 100 years

This is probably the longest journey mankind has ever undertaken. In times of instant gratification and quick fixes, this is a humbling reminder that great journeys are often those that take time. If one looks at the world records held for the most important race in the sporting world, one which crowns the winner as the fastest human being in the universe, the 100m men race and traces its timings across the last 100 years, one would be left gasping at the enormity of a simple and small number.

The list of winners and timings vary basis various sources, but according to one source,   (source: one Thomas Burke ran the race in 12 seconds in 1896 and lets begin to trace this journey from there. Many other sprinters pushed the boundries and the celebrated US runner Jessie Owens knocked off a cool one and a half seconds and clocked 10.3 seconds in the year 1936, a good 40 years later than Burke. The 10 second barrier was broken in 1968 by James Hines who clocked 9.90 seconds. It has taken the next 60 plus years to push the envelope by another half a second, when Usain Bolt clocked 9.62 seconds a few days back. So the arc of time has travelled more than a hundred years to make progress worth 2 seconds and a bit more. Read it again and let the enormity of it seep in - 100 long years and a progress of just 2 seconds. It cannot get any more overwhelming or grander than this. No other figure with its innate 'tiny-ness' has been so impactful in the history of human progress. It tells us so much about us, our pursuits, and our relentlessness - and it also, if we bother to apply it, puts so many things in perspective.

It tells us that real progress takes time, really long, and frustratingly long period of time. It also tells us that many people will come together and push thier boundries a tad fraction of a second more than the last one and in doing so will push the history of the species an inch forward. The future will stand tall only on the shoulders of the past. It tells us that the agonising wait is so much worth it. It tells us that some times real progress is imperceptible to the naked eye and to really appreciate this try imagining the duration of 2 seconds - its equal to blinking of the eye!!. It tells us the virtues of being at the job and chipping of the rock painstakingly before the statue in it reveals itself.

The story of these two seconds tell us to take a hard look at the growing importance of speed in many aspects of our pursuits today and forces us to question the contemporary wisdom on quick fixes and overnight success. Swiftness is a virtue but not always. This might be counterintuitive to the ways of the world today, but there is enough evidence in the natural world to indicate the virtues of slow progress. All natural processes take a certain time - like procreation, blooming of flowers, ripening of fruits so on and so forth. Anything less than that time is considered unnatural and yields a result which is sub optimal and in most cases abnormal, dysfunctional, and bitter. 

Kabeer says
Dheere dheere re mana, dheere sab kuch hoye
maali seenche sau ghada, ritu aaye phal hoye
(Things take time; Even you water many times, the fruit will bloom only when its time for it do so)


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Monday Musings 151 - We must have a plan

Monday Musings 151 - We must have a plan

"Life is what happens to you while you were busy  making other plans" -John Lennon

We must have a plan - thats the refrain one hears so often. I have dished that advise on many unsuspecting victims many a times. I am an ardent believer of having one all the time. In fact come to think of it, I have more than one all the time, given how in myriad ways the cookie crumbles these days.  

A plan gives things an element of certainty, a feeling, howsoever fragile and pseudo it might be, of being in control. The plan is the anchor in choppy waters, that may or may not suffice when time does come to test it, but till that time at least, it gives a warm feeling of comfort and surety.

 What can be more endearing and warm than to exactly know how things are going to unfold, events are going to pan out, stages are going to unravel, even if it means in the eye of your mind. In all probability their unfolding in the realms of imagination is more joyous than in reality - for in reality they unravel only once, but in the eye of your imagination it does over and over again. Think of all your 'plans' so far, some of which at this date may be referred to as childhood fantasies or adolescent wishful thinking, but which at that time certainly qualified as plans, and fulfilled or not, they still have the capacity to make you smile and give you that warm feeling. One must have plans.

One must have plans and one must not take them seriously. One must believe in them, one must have faith in them, the way one believes in God or has faith in the 'goodness of the world', but one should not be naive enough to be carried away by their certainty. A belief in God should not take away our eye from the devil; a faith in the need to be good should not make us oblivious of the fact that evil exists as much or more. One should make plans and one must be aware of their fragility.

Much as this paradox is difficult to be retained in one head without becoming insane, there are moments when the 'glass must break', if only to keep your rendezvous with reality. It’s almost akin to why a child must be exposed to all kinds of illness during childhood in mild forms so that the body recognizes the need to build immunity against that and much larger illnesses. Small plan must go awry so that we prepare for larger plans going awry. One must have plans and some of them must not fructify.

Can you discern your plan blooming or going to dogs in slow motion? It’s as difficult as watching a flower bloom - you can figure out that the flower has bloomed, but you cannot discern its each step. The bloom is the proof or the disaster.
Imagine how would it be to be able to watch a plan bloom and a plan go bust, but in slow motion. You can do it only if you are a hell of an observer. You must have the heart of angels, the courage of gladiators and the eye of a sage.

Its great fun. 


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Monday Musings 150- Monday Musings is five.

Monday Musings 150- Monday Musings is five.

Monday musings turns five on 9th of July. I would not have remembered this, had an old colleague not called up recently to inform me. It is certianly a personal milestone that is significant for me, although i am acutely aware that for most it should hardly matter. Here are some of the reflections of an ameteur's attempts at creative writing.

I started writing short pieces in English only when i was well past thirty. English was not my first language for the first thirty years - actually it was practically not my language at all for the first twenty years or so. Hence, the attempt to write in it was simultaneously an act of courage and a leap of faith. The first few steps were very tentative and clouds of self doubt always loomed large. A lot of us write for pleasure and for self consumption or at best share it with a close circle of friends, but writing for public consumption, where there is always a risk of an adverse comment or a barb or a critique, is a different kettle of fish. I was however daunted more by the prospect of discipline, of having to churn out a piece monday after monday. As one would see, that five years and a 150 Monday Musing's later, the success on that count is roughly 60% ie i have been able to churn out a Monday musing 60% of the mondays thus far. I think i have done good by my initial projections.

I have realised in these five years that writing is both an act of craft and an act of discipline and the latter is more difficult than the former. The Genius may look for an act of inspiration to be able to put together a piece, an event, a strand of a thought, a motivation so sublime that its expression will be nothing short of a masterpiece. More often than not however, a lot of observations are wasted, triggers are let unattended, which could have been tales worth telling. I forget more triggers than i remember. I realise if i do not attend to them then and there, the moment is lost. Its difficult, nay impossible to remember it later, much as one tries to struggle with memory or conciousness, a pursuit as futile as remembering last nights dream - you know its there somewhere, vague and hazy but cannot describe it. I regret not nurturing those triggers. I lament the loss of Monday Musings that could have been.

There are times when you feel strongly about something but the expression eludes you. Even as you finish the piece there is a residue than rattles inside you, that is the only proof that you have not justice to the thought or the subject. You have not completed the story and only you know it.

The harshest comment that i have ever recieved about Monday Musings from someone who has followed it closely for quite some time now, is that it is not someone who is living the subject. It appears to the reader that i am not a participant to the drama that i am writing about, i am just a bystander, an observer who is passive and has no stakes in the story. Fair point and accepted.

An imperfection about my writings that i am acutely aware is the singular lack of diversity of subjects. I seem to be writing more and more about the same things. My reportaire is limited or may be i am scared to venture into the unkown. I plan to change that in the coming five years.

As i look back for five years of writing, however intermittent it has been, i feel satisfied and hopeful, because i have managed to sustain it longer than i had estimated. I feel thankful to those who have followed my musings whenever they could, even though they had options of reading more gifted and accomplished writers. If the first five years are any indications, i have all the reasons to look forward to the next five. May they be more purposeful and intense.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Monday Musings149 - The sounds, smells and stories of Varanasi

149 - The sounds, smells and stories of Varanasi

If myths, legends, folklore and anecdotes determine the antiquity of a city, then Varanasi, or Benares or Kashi has no dearth of it. A total of 5 hours may be a tad too less to make a view about a city that is considered as the oldest in India and arguably the oldest in the world, but they are certainly enough for Varanasi to make an impression on you. 

Varanasi is an antiquated city, with the old mixing with the very old. Even modern signs and images are represented through metaphors of the ancient. The amount of traffic, both in terms of intensity and speed  that the hardly 3-4 feet alleys that cris- cross the city like veins can accommodate, is only seen to be believed. Human density is mindboggling. And the city still goes through its rites, undeterred by its limitations.

There are two parallel stories of Varanasi - the story of the city, its inhabitants, and its trysts with history, rulers, religion and temples and there is the story of the river Ganges and the entire universe of rituals that it supports and upholds - and beyond a particular time both of these merge together. The story of Varanasi can as well be the story of the river Ganges. One just has to delayer the 5000 year history - every decade and century has added its own layers and left behind its own imprints and followers, each believing that Varanasi belongs to them, never realizing that Varanasi is bigger than them - they are but just one layer. It seems everyone owns a part of Varanasi, and the city has enough to give a piece to give to everybody. Let me give you an example - Of the dozen of names of the Ghats on which people take a dip, sample three name - Narad Ghat (a God or His contemporary), Harsihchandra Ghat (a legendary King), and Rajendra Prasad Ghat (Indias first President) !! What a span!!!!

Varanasi is the city of salvation and liberation. People come here to die, for that is a death worth living for. Pyres burn round the clock on two of its Ghats, Manikarnika and Harishchandra Ghat, particularly the former, a cremation that guarantees salvation according to Hindu beliefs. The sight of the burning pyre, one after the other, is poignant and overwhelming. One can sit in silence and watch it for hours deep in thought at a sight that is enthralling and intimidating at the same time; and when one forces his eyes off it, the thought that ricochets in the mind is 'What’s all the fuss about?' 

Folklore has it, that every fifth house in Varanasi is a temple. It’s not an exaggeration. Although Varanasi may be a city of Hindi legends and folklore, other religions are equally represented. The Kashi Vishwanath temple access is nothing short of a miracle – through dark alleys, where perhaps even sunlight has no access, made more cumbersome and a tad irritating with all the police presence. Mainstream Gods coexist with the occult, the male divine along with the female divine. There are dozens of mosques, a historically significant Sikh gurudwara, and a few churches and finally there is Sarnath, the Place where Budha gave his first sermon after enlightenment. What an eclectic collection of spiritual possibilities – almost like a super mart of religions – the consumer has a wide choice.    

There is ‘Chaorder’- a chaotic order in the sounds – the thousands of bells from the hundreds of temples, the call of the muezzin from the mosque, the buzz of a million believers, the tinkles’ of a thousand rickshaw pullers, the groan of a hundred of automobiles can be a strain not only on your eardrum, but also on your soul – and after a while, when you get used to it, the silence is deafening.

The day ends with the spectacle of the Ganga Aarti, an ode to the mighty river. Two set of priests perform a perfectly synchronized aarti, with consummate ease and harmony, bringing the day to an end for the river, by offering faith, and seeking benediction. As one watches the lit Ghats from the opposite side, atop a boat gliding on the water and become aware of the sound of bells, and the smell of camphor and that of water itself, the thought hits you – that the Ganges has seen this sight for thousands of years, day after day – and then one is no longer sure about the entire concept of time.

One needs a hundred year to understand Varanasi, and may a life time to experience it completely, and even then one would have experienced only a part of it. There are sounds that I can still hear, sights I can still see and smells I still carry. I may have left behind the city, guess the city refuses to leave me behind.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

148 Monday Musings: To do or not to do - is my business!!

148 Monday Musings: To do or not to do - is my business!!

Imagine you living in Mumbai for 20 years and not having visited Marine drive or imagine you living in Agra for 20 years and not having visited the Taj or having lived in Delhi for 20 years and not having visited the Qutub Minar!!
What goes through your mind as you imagine any of the above? And then imagine you living wherever you have and think of all that you haven’t visited or done or experienced for long.

Here are 10 thoughts that go through my mind.
1. Life is busy and I just got busy.Being busy is not a sin, is it - and once you are busy with some thing, you are bound to miss others. Its queer, unusual may be, but what’s the big deal - everyone misses something or the other.
2. At times I did not have the right company who could enjoy the joys of visiting something so quintessentially linked to the identity of my city, a joy that quite literally belongs to my city only - and to no other. There are hundreds like me.
3. Aren’t there more important things than visiting the Marine dive, the Taj or the Qutub Minar or any other such thing? I mean, come on, what’s this fuss about a non issue? Why dont you talk about what i did?
4. Cognitively it means not much, in the sense that I was not wasting my time - was I? I was doing other equally or perhaps more important things. But it could mean something at a deeper level. Let me think about it?
5.Lets not be judgmental in ascribing too much significance to this - I did what I had to and going to these places did not seem important in the scheme of priorities that I had then. I will go or not go to places and do things or not do things based on time available or what appeals or what is important to me. It’s my context and so shut up.
6.I might have been doing other big and important things all this while, but small, inconsequential things have their own meaning and significance. (As I write this, it’s the first rains in Mumbai and I can see over a dozen kids playing in the rains below in the society park, and a few adults too!!). There is fulfillment in innanities and more importantly they are rich source of memories for the future. Have you wondered how we seem to remember moments where we let go more than the moments we were restrained and in control.
7. Are there other things also, the joys that I have missed, inadvertently but surely, that I can catch up now on? Let me make a yearly list or a 'bucket list'!
8. Two quotes that have stayed with me for so long suddenly come back. "If only youth knew and Age could?" and the second one by Mark Twain "20 years from now we will only regret what we did not do, rather than what we did"
9.I will not be burdened by the wieght of the 'what ifs' and 'could have beens'. I will only be liberated by the possibilities of 'what can be'.
10. Sometimes poignant misses like these are important to be experienced - they reveal to us the innate imperfection of life, its fundamental nature is incompleteness; and in revealing this imperfection and incompleteness, these experiences indicate to us the struggle and joy of trying to make it perfect.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

147 Monday Musings- Cartoons and Caricatures

147 Monday Musings- Cartoons and Caricatures

This might slip into the certitudes of shoulds and musts, but that is the price one pays to write on something that has been written about so much, that one more attempt only draws out sighs and yawns. The Indian parliament erupted in hurt on the issue of an cartoon that got published almost half a century ago being included in the NCERT books, which depicts Nehru pulling up Ambedkar on the delay in the framing and scripting of the constitution. As if the outrage itself was not tragic enough, Kapil Sibal went out and apologized for the inclusion of the cartoon, the two academicians behind the inclusion of the cartoons in the text book resigned and to add insult to injury, a few lumpen elements went ahead and vandalized the office of one of the academicians.

There is enough in this incident why anyone in his right mind will find reasons to be disturbed about. The cartoons in question are half a century old, based quite on facts and the actors concerned themselves never took offence during their lifetimes - and these must be reasons enough why we must ask in exasperation 'what’s the bloody fuss about?
Second where will this end? If we start feeling offended on everything that ever happened, on fears and phobias, complexes and hurts, based on real or imagined events, then I guess we are creating a worldview so downright intolerant, touchy and sensitive, that joyful living will always elude us.

This incident is not a random, isolated event - it’s a part of larger pattern that is being played out with uncanny and scary regularity. Sentiments of all kinds seem to be waiting for being hurt, feel insulted and wronged. Identitities of all kinds are so fragile that only one question can trigger mayhem, only one cartoon can trigger hurt and insult. All scrutiny, academic delayering, discussion on anything related to belief, faith, icons, leaders, are out of bounds. The industry of faith and idol worship seems to run on the fuel of suspended inquiry and meek submissiveness. If we are incapable to question and learn from the past, if we are incapable to scrutinize and analyze our present - then it will be of little surprise that we are also hopelessly incapable of chiseling out a great future. Our faiths are not perfect, neither were our icons and role models, but despite their imperfections they left a legacy. In questioning an analyzing them we are paying them the ultimate homage of engaging with their legacy. It’s better than paying lip service to them or being apathetic to it. We must be comfortable in questioning the holy cows and accepting our past, its people and faiths. Irreverence is not always bad - it’s a sign of a very confident people.

The last thing about this incident that left me with a sour taste is the realization how incapable we as a people have become in laughing at ourselves. Cartoons lighten the day for us; the intent is to take light hearted pot shot at very serious things. As Rufun wainwrith says "There's no life without humor. It can make the wonderful moments of life truly glorious, and it can make tragic moments bearable. I fail to understand the composition of people who cannot take a good hearted dig at themselves. In failing to see the funny side of life, the banter in inanities, the humor in small mercies, we reveal a lot about ourselves. We might have fought the cartoons, but in the process have reduced ourselves to caricatures of what we can be. Let’s be better than that.