Monday, February 27, 2012

140 Monday Musings – The Book will find you

140 Monday Musings – The Book will find you

The Confucious saying 'When the student is ready, a teacher appears' has stayed with me for many years now. At different points of time, I have found inspiration and solace in his timeless statement. The notion of each one of us being eternal, permanent and restless students in search of meaning, some meaning that will uplift us from the mundane to the sublime has been a recurring theme through my own restlessness. Much as we dislike the classical and popular image of a student, as someone who is being forced to study against his free will, the reality is that there is a learner lurking right there in each one of us.

Most lives are the relative struggle about hiding or revealing, shackling or liberating, denying or acknowledging, suppressing or encouraging the learner in us. I find it ironical and tragic in a lot of ways, that the literal meaning of the word Taliban is students - the pursuit of learning, the exact meaning of the word Sikh - meaning disciple, in the pursuit of learning. Much of human life is the story of the life being ready to learn, to reach the ripe stage and state, where a magical teacher shall appear. All human struggles and its resultant angst are only up to that point.

It is a common expression in our country on the matter of pilgrimages, that it’s only when He wills, will you be able to undertake the blessed journey. The concept of 'abhi bulawa nahi aay hai' is an often heard one, betraying the same thought - the God will allow His darshan, only when the devotee is ready or has earned it. How many times we have heard the angst of people of a lifelong desire to visit a holy shrine, but for strange reasons of coincidences, not being able to make it, despite no limitations of resources. Guess the pilgrim was not ready.

The real progenitor of this piece is a thought that I have been ruminating on for some time now, which is crystallizing as I write this. We may know of many books and buy many of them - but every book has a time, just right for the reader to devour its pages. You may hold the book for years, try reading it much as you want it, but will not be able to finish, assimilate or internalize it, till you are ready. Buying a book is a sign of your material ability, borrowing it is a sign of your credit ability, but till you are intellectually or spiritually able, in the truest sense of the word, to assimilate the worth of its meaning, comprehend the expanse of its treatment, appreciate the finesse of its nuances, the book will elude you for some strange reason or the other. While you may keep reminding yourself that you have not found time to read it, the reality is that you are not ready yet, and the book has not called you, yet! You may not know it, the book does.

And just on the lines of the Confucius prediction, the moment you are ready, the book will find you.



Sunday, February 19, 2012

139 Monday Musings - Two taxi drivers

139 Monday Musings - Two taxi drivers

Meeting a different kind of people, the ones about whom you have only heard of so far but never really met, can be a very revealing experience. Genetic biologists say that there is 99.7% similarity between any two human beings, across the world, which means that there is only .3% difference between any two samples of homo sapiens - a number that surely makes a mockery of the hundreds of pretexts on which human beings have managed to distinguish themselves from each other. India can be a very overwhelming place if we go by the number of ways in which identities are sliced and chopped, each making us thinner and more mutually exclusive sub groups, based on the usual suspects - religion, castes, sub castes so on and so forth. Over a period of time popular stereotypes of each of these sub groups gets built and entrenched. There are many circumstances during which these stereotypes get challenged. 

On an alien land, which is too different from us, somebody less different suddenly appears more familiar and acceptable. This power and relevance of this truism became more evident to me on a recent trip to Dubai, I had the chance to be driven around the city, at two different times by two taxi drivers - all Pakistanis, who appeared more familiar, acceptable and accepting to me in Dubai than the thought of Pakistan and Pakistanis has been while I have been in India. This was probably my first experience to test my feelings towards the people of a country whose existence for us has been like sibling rivalry - born of the same wombs, but grown to hate each other where while one can hate the other but never really deny his existence. Though I have always been acutely aware of how divisive language can be, I realized through these interactions its ability to forge bonds. As we struck a conversation with Ghulam and Bilal, the two taxi drivers in question, so much got revealed - some that I enjoyed and some that I did not.

Ghulam, a pasthun from Karachi was sturdy, fair complexioned and more on the face of the two. He had clear and firm views about everything, particularly the status of cricket in the subcontinent. According to him Sachin should have retired after the world cup the way Imran Khan did, has become too old and is probably only interested in his 100th ton, things that we obviously contested. Ghulam remained firm in his views about Sachin as a spent force, nowhere near divine as we make it out here in India.
Bilal, the younger of the two, a punjabi from Gujranwala, a town near Lahore, was more expressive. We talked on many things and in no particular order I recount a few of those to you. He thought Imran khan had a chance in the politics of Pakistan for simple and elegant reason that people had already experimented with Nawaz Sharif and Benazeer Bhutto, without much result and hence simple rule of fairness and the incumbency effect combined merited that we try the third one out. He also thought that we are making too much fuss about the match fixing in Pakistan cricket - of the 300 balls in an innings even if the bowler favored his own people in 10 of them, then we should not really create too much hue and cry about it. He thought that Shoab Akhtar is mentally deranged and Sachin definitely a spent force.

Bilals view about Bollywood were an interesting academic read, for it definitely proves that the best way to conquer Pakistanis is definitely not another war, but our films. He thought Hritik was hardworking, Ranbeer just about ok, Shahid a good actor, Salman a mindless hunk, Aamir as intelligent but Shahrukh a very well read and educated actor. He had seen practically all the recent movies of these stars and could make his views about them basis the roles these stars had essayed in them. Bilal spoke fluent Punjabi and said that while Urdu may be the national language of Pakistan, folks spoke their local language mostly i.e Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtun et al, something which so true about Hindi and all the other languages in various states in India - so different and yet so similar!!!

Bilal was endearing in the way he came across - warm, affectionate, expressive, knew his mind and knew how to express it. He surely had his quirks and stereotypes, yet he was forthcoming in the expression of his likes and dislikes in a very honest and upright way. I kind of liked him - and if he is how an average Pakistani is, then two things are clear - one, we are not much different than them, and two I am going to like their company, for they may be anything else, but they surely are not boring.



Sunday, February 5, 2012

138 Monday Musings # What January's foretell

138 - What January's foretell

When one has seen a sufficient numbers of new years, one is in a position to compare the manner in which one ushered them. There is a mood of the times that gets emphasized and heightened, influenced by the manner in which the previous December had breathed its last, and depending upon how the winds are blowing, perching the coming year precariously - either erect with hope and optimism or leaden with ambiguity and uncertainty.
January of 2012 amongst its peer group of various January's will surely occupy a place of special analytical curiosity, neither offering clear answers, nor sufficiently jolted by the barrage of questions; neither offering the resplendence of a great year unfolding itself, nor painting the darkness of doom, neither here, not there - with just enough evidence for the bulls and the bears, the eternal optimists and the perennial pessimists, the merchants of hope and the vampires of despair.

The naysayers will refer to what is wrong in political, economic, national and social spheres. Politically, this appears to be a government in suspended animation, the phrase 'policy paralysis' used most often to describe its frenzied inaction, or at least the absence of action that matters; a government which has made shooting itself into its foot a revered art form; the opposition which is inexplicably incoherent and adolescent, does not give hope any fresh lease if life. The economy seems to oscillate between bad news and very bad news, often celebrating the former, because it’s not very bad - GDP numbers getting revised every month but never for the better, shrinking demand, mostly increasing interest rates, dodgy rupee, FII's dalliance with the India story souring- creating an atmosphere bereft of positive sentiment, something which is as important as content. Things haven’t been rosy nationally as well, with the 2G court ruling questioning the policy itself, the executive-judiciary faceoff will not be far behind, as if mud sticking on the political class was not enough having recently faced their worst existential crisis posed by a frail ex soldier and now social reformer from Ralegaon sidhi. While US seems to be holding on, every day something new happens in Europe and the naysayers say, the worst is yet to come. As you can see, not a great description any January would have liked to have.

The Chinese believe that the balance in the universe is maintained by the Ying and the Yang, the opposite forces of nature that keeps things in balance. One does not exist without other and the counterbalance that they provide to each other is the essence of harmony in nature. To all the Ying above, there are evidences of Yang as well, albeit subtle and not obvious to common observation. Politically what we are seeing unfold through all that is distasteful and hopeless, is a purge that was long overdue. Some argue that at least the wrongdoings are catching up. More cases against corruption have seen the light of the day, more arrests and convictions, however woefully inadequate they might be in proportion to the overall mess, have happened in the last few years than any time ever. The politics of the country is undergoing its own manthan, its catharsis or purge, a painful correction that is seeing venom being spewed out, absence of Neelkanth notwithstanding. Every society has gone through this purge before calm, order and sanity has prevailed. Economically, a 7% growth is still one amongst the best in the world, and given the independence and reliance our economy has on domestic consumption, I think we are not half as bad as those who quite literally walk on the crutches of exports. India will, as it has in the past, will grow inspite of the government, not because of it. Europe and US would have learnt its lessons in the merits of living within its means and take necessary actions and limp towards recovery. Most importantly I sense an undoubted optimism on the streets, if not in the board rooms and the dalal street, of ordinary people’s faith in their present being better than their past, and by the same exuberant logic of extension, their future being better than their present.
I happen to be one of them, though it may not be possible to provide sufficient evidence to that optimism. Sometimes, it’s not possible to provide those evidences, and at other times they are not needed.