Sunday, December 27, 2015

Monday Musings 251 - Reinventing resolutions

Monday Musings 251: Reinventing resolutions
Almost every year the last musing is dedicated to take stock of the year gone by and what does the change of the year means to me. I went through my end of year blogs for the last few years so that I stay away from repeating the same things even if I attempt to say it in a different manner.
Surely New Year is a stock taking time, resolution time and reflection time.  Surely we must indulge in the serious business of book keeping and closing accounts of knowing what we caught and what we dropped.  However maybe this method is faulty - for why else every year we drop more than we catch. Why do more resolutions get discontinued and meet a premature and unglamorous end?
Why cannot resolutions be a little more creative and meaningful – stuff that really has the potential of making life altering impact. Here are my top 10 recommendations (not sure how soon will I break them.but nevertheless!)
1.       I will not suffer fools easily. I will tell them to buzz off instead of being polite and hold meaningless conversation when all that I am thinking is how to run for my life.
2.       I will not say yes when I want to say no. Enough of being the nice and sensitive guy.  Saying yes when you want to say no only adds to your burden, increases work and makes you feel extremely miserable.
3.       I will not attend get- together’s and parties because it is good for networking even though we hate almost everyone we meet there and know deeply their charade. The few good ones can always be met one on one. In any case what is the point of meeting the same people with the same stories and the same jokes and then end up feeling there is nothing new in life.
4.       I will not eat out. This overpriced, overhyped fancy cuisine thing is plain stupidity. You end up eating things that is bad, overeat in most cases only for the cheap thrill of showing off that you are such an experimental guy when it comes to the palate.
5.       I will not watch TV – particularly news and those stupid serials and dance/singing contests.  If one has to watch comedy one should watch comedy – not news. In any case it’s cacophonous, negative, depressing and will give you the impression that the world is coming to an end.
6.       I will not advise or try to motivate people. It does not work. Its only purpose is to make you better and give an impression that you know things but it has absolutely no impact on any one’s life. If these pearls of wisdom that you dole on unsuspecting chaps had any worth in them, you would not be where you are. People know what is good for them and they don’t need your advice.
7.       I will not haggle or bargain with the rickshawwallah, vegetable vendor and other people who make a living on the street. When I cannot do it in the fancy stores and malls I don’t think we should take revenge by doing it with these folks. Saving a ten and a twenty there and yet spending thousands in the big stores is being penny wise and pound foolish. I will free myself of such cheapness.
8.       I will stay away from technology – as much as I can. This one is really very difficult. It has made us horribly mean, self centred and inward looking. It has solved fewer problems and created more.
9.       I will not fall for brands. They make a fool of me, enticing me to buy stuff that I don’t need, at the price I cannot afford, for functions that I don’t ever use. There is magic in minimalism.
10.   I will not shop. All that I need I have aplenty. Perhaps more than what I need. I will wage a moratorium on all kinds of shopping for the next 1 year. I assure you we all will be still alive and nothing would have gone amiss.
Let’s see ow long these resolutions last!! Enjoy the build up for the New Year.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Monday Musings 250 – The world just is!

Monday Musings 250 – The world just is!

‘’The world is not good or bad. The world is’’
-          From the ‘Narrow road to the deep north’ – by Richard Flanagan

In a wonderful story that is set at the backdrop of the Prisoners of war during the second world war, the author through the despair of its characters in those horrible camps, come to this conclusion. I find it very uplifting.

All of us have a story. Every life had, has and will have. The play of events change, the characters swap places and the vile tide of time plays out the torment in different ways.  There is nothing original in this – it seems all that has happened all along will only repeat itself – like war, separation, love, death, penury and hurt – only the theatre changes. However what it elicits in each is absolutely original – each one has his/her own cross to carry and it does seems quite heavy – heavier than the crosses that others are carrying.

It is magical albeit rare to find a soul unsullied by his tumult. It is not uncommon to arrive at strong opinions about the inherent nature of things – often as unforgiving and cruel. The nature of existence and the world around us - acquires a shade of grey, depressing and dark, heavy and foreboding. Once that is done then conclusion precedes experience – even before things unravel the sense of injustice, betrayal and disappointment is established. The world is certified as bad. This worldview then becomes the bedrock of all future interactions and experiences. Life no longer is given a chance to prove its innately neutral character. Water only acquires what it is mixed with. It is innately without a taste.

The world is. It is not good or bad. It just is! It is perhaps a much evolved way of looking at the world, and one might argue almost a spiritual world-view, but definitely something worthy of being flirted with. I find cognitively at least, the premise very liberating. It offers me the hope of empowerment, freeing me from the vice like grip others, circumstances and events have over my ability to be happy. In the act of recognising the world as just something to be dealt with clinically, without the encumbrance of emotion and expectation, I free myself from the yoke of disappointment – that cancer that eats away life slowly and surely unseen to naked eye. The world has no more any duties towards me – of being fair and nice, of being good and kind, of doing to me what I want and giving me what I desire. The world just is! The world no longer owes me anything in return of my efforts, loyalties and emotions – it does not have to take care of me or get flustered by any quid pro quo. The world just is!

The possibilities of this thought are immense. They are worth exploring.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Monday Musings 249 – Gods can have feet of clay

Monday Musings 249 – Gods can have feet of clay

A few comments with friends cutting across states and the country on the subject of Narendra Modi went to the following effect - “ He is our only hope and India has a future only with him today and the best thing would be to give him charge for the next 20 years and then see what India does’.  Well this is not about Modi as everything unfortunately turns out to be these days but about a question that such hero worship almost to the level of cult raises – and I ask this question not necessarily in the political context but equally organisational or social context – what are the perils of such a phenomena?

Here is my point – the moment a large group of people put all their hopes on one person and start to believe, if not fantasise, that he is the messiah who will pull them out of their current rot and if not for this person we are doomed because no one else has either the vision or the ability or the charisma to lead us through the current malaise – these people either as a voting mass in a polity or a employees in organisation are creating conditions for either disappointment or failure or both.

The same question in an organisation or institution can be framed as – the belief that ONE person, worse still ONE specific person will miraculously change things for the better – be able to provide direction to the lost, provide vision to the blind, energise the sleepy, spark up the mediocre and wave the magic band – and voila the company will start growing, increase market share and become a shining beacon of excellence – then I suspect as argued above we are creating conditions for either disappointment or failure both.  

Such hero worship, romantic as the idea may sound is flawed in multiple ways and often ends in grief. Here are some of my reasons. You can add yours.

One – such obsessive cult often distorts vision. The idea of a messiah or a miracle man is fiction. It sounds great in myths and stories but real people have real abilities. They come with their expertise but also with their handicaps. Such expectations make the journey of improvement led by only one person either too simplistic or worse delusional. This phenomenon takes eyes away from the nuts and bolts of reality and puts disproportionate focus on the personality. It takes away attention from dirty daily work required to be accomplished by many more and focuses on the meaningless ritual of hero worship.

Second – while it is great for the leader who is at the receiving end of such adulation and dependence (who would not like people fawning and drooling over them!), it is damaging to the masses – the very people who are waiting for this messiah. In the act of depending way too much on one person, the masses relinquish their free will, often without being aware of it. They abdicate their own role in the process of progress, almost saying ‘’since I cannot do, let me be unquestionably loyal to someone who in THINK can’’. Loyalty is not a substitute for the spirit of ownership. This leads to a voluntary but corrosive disempowerment.

Third – this creates fertile ground for such messiah becoming a tyrant. One only needs to study history to know that every single dictator began his journey as the ‘ONLY hope to his people/institution during his times’. Not his fault actually – he was given it on a platter by those who believed a messiah is what their system needed. Benevolent dictator is either a myth or a precursor to an absolute dictator.  Megalomaniacs and overblown egos draw their sustenance from flattering masses and adulating employees. The system is handing over the power of collective and concentrating it in one individual in the name of hope and support.

Fourth – Any leader in any context when burdened with unrealistic expectations of creating magic ( eg – only he will solve all problems, under only him there will be prosperity/growth, only he will arrest depleting profitability and bring back glory etc etc) is quite likely to disappoint. It is not a question of the person’s ability, but the odds get stacked against him with such huge burden of expectations. The absoluteness of the hope that gets attached to him makes even a slip look like a fall. He is up against multiple factors - law of averages, bad timing, or it could be an issue of underestimating the changed context (war prime ministers of countries are often a failure in peace time, growth CEOs often struggle during consolidation, or it could be the proverbial Peter’s principle etc etc). Uneasy rests the soul that carries the weight of such expectations.

So whenever in polity or workplace I hear the mention of such a messiah, I become a healthy sceptic. The whole idea that one saviour is on whom my future depends is so bloody demeaning to my idea of individual self respect and free will. So I suggest we question such gods, keep them on their toes, scrutinise their thought process, decision making at all times. Make them feel challenged at all times. It will be healthy for them and good for us.

In any case about gods and messiahs I have come to realise, they often have feet of clay.  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Monday Musing 248 - 'Tamasha' is 'Tare Zameen par - part 2'

Monday Musing 248 - 'Tamasha' is 'Tare Zameen par - part 2'

Those who thought that the Ranbeer- Deepika coming on screen again would be ‘Ye Jawani hai Deewani’ returns would be disappointed. ‘Tamasha’ is more a ‘Tare Zameen Par’ returns.  It is a movie that every parent must watch rather than the young ones in search of romance.

This might sound like a movie review but that is the price one pays for risking a musing that emerges out of the triggers from a movie. Cut to its bones, the movies simple message is – do not mess with the natural talents of your child or else he will turn out to be a mediocre zombie who will mouth platitudes and live a meaningless life of a drone and will have a botched up (love) life.

Tamasha runs more like an allegory than a motion picture – it flows like a sun down grand mom tale. The opening sequence is an ode paid to the ubiquitousness of stories that we all have grown up with – stories of our epics, stories from our religions, love stories and so on an so forth. The grainy images of the school boy’s enactments during plays makes a lovely backdrop that quite literally tells the viewer how deeply entrenched is the culture of storytelling in human society. It serves as the backdrop in which such imagination centric childhood then gets tormented and maimed by the pursuit of employment driven education. I am not surprised that the punching bag is ‘maths’ and ‘engineering’ – for these two represents best the terrorism of this bias on students at least in the last few decades. One could easily add medicine and now MBA to that list of tormentors! There are some brilliant shots in that early part where the story enamoured child is day dreaming and names of all other academic subjects are appearing on the screen like villains distracting him. Not a word said – but don’t they say that a pictures speaks a thousand words!

The way such a child turns into a robot when he joins work is brilliantly essayed. The meeting room scenes are comic only because they are exaggerated versions of reality. The yes-manship, the trite and mouthed-to-death lines in the powerpoint obsessed meeting room scenes bully home the point that for someone whose heart is not in the work that he does and who was meant to do something else will only experience a soul crushing meaninglessness that will corrode his joy. The person becomes a shadow of him and loses his joie de vivre and how such a pauper will only be a drag to people around him and the work that he does.

The melodramatic scene towards the end in the conversation with the now insane old story teller is poignant, particularly when the old man says something to the effect – ‘you must be out of your mind – you are asking me how your story ends – go find your end to your story’.  Do we know what we want our story to look like? Do we have the courage to write it?

Tamasha is not a romantic pot boiler. It is more a parent education initiative. Good job Imtiaz Ali. Clearly you know where the shoe pinches. The love story was just a red herring and it worked quite well.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Monday musings 247- The tuition teacher

Monday musings 247- The tuition teacher

Tuition teachers come in all types. In cities it is organised retail education enterprise. In smaller towns and cities the school teachers double up as tuition teachers to supplement the meagre incomes.

Anyone who has lived in a township of sorts will tell you that it is a unique ecosystem, particularly around tuition's. A township owes its existence to a nearby factory or an establishment viz mills, factories, or railways etc. It is an oasis in almost all ways conceivable in comparison to its surroundings.

Jhinkpani, a small township in the tribal hinterland of Jharkhand is one of the many townships that you may know of – just a little more secluded, underdeveloped and distant that you could imagine, just a bit more removed from contemporary reality or just a wee bit more serene, depending upon the perspective you deploy.

Three decades ago there was this strange professional tuition teacher – I call him strange because that is the only thing he used to do – take tuition's. This guy in that sense was different from all others – he only did tuition's for that terror of almost all school children – maths! Anyone who had a maths problem in the township knew that his was the door to knock.  

For thirty long years or so he kept the fires of his house kindled through offering his services as a maths tuition teacher. He was the only one of his ilk for the entire township and nearby hamlets. He would be seen moving around in his bicycle moving from one road to another, one house to another offering his wares on an hourly basis to terrified souls (what else but maths!). He was so ubiquitous and i would like to hazard the comparison that apart from the village post man i think he toured more houses on a daily basis than anyone else. Despite not having a formal employment as a teacher he was very well regarded, respected and depended upon. This went on for 30 long years. Generations upon generation of students from the township got tutored under his benevolent guidance. Tiny tots who became adolescent had their own tiny tots who were then attended to by him. He was the family maths tuition teacher in a way.

Last fortnight many of us met after 25 years of passing school and on a sudden impulse decided to meet our benevolent tuition teacher and we did. Old, skinny and clearly frail he seemed to be elated to see us. If he had struggle to remember our names which might not be improbable, he did not betray it. It was difficult to fathom if his reticence in expression was a result of a fragility arising out of disease and age or a choking with emotions to be remembered this way after so many years.  A tuition teacher is rarely remembered this way. In the pecking order of teachers they are often below the school teachers – in acknowledgement and remembrances. So when we met him i thought it was validation of sorts. In hindsight i can only imagine what our going to meet him unannounced would have meant for him. Did he draw any meaning out of it – for the three decade of succour and help that he provided to many? Did he feel acknowledged in what we could easily call a pilgrimage of sorts at his doorsteps? Did he feel proud that his creations had returned to express gratitude and thankfulness – and that would be greatest his earning because in monetary terms he struggled all his life to make ends meet and i am told that was the reality even today.

Exactly a week after we met him i got the news he had passed away.  Could we have delivered him the best last gift in our own unintended way – of making him see how fruitful and meaningful his contribution had been.  

Rest in peace sir.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Monday Musings 246 – Twenty five years and counting

Monday Musings 246 – Twenty five years and counting

Reunions are common. Reuniting may not be.  When a reunion also turns out to be reuniting, it can be magical. The class which passed out from the school roughly 25 years back met again and as i would like to believe also reunited.

They passed out as gawky teenagers, with funny hairdo’s and colourful pigtails, an awkwardness that the teens of that age thought was normal. They met as matured adults with receding hairlines, bulging bellies and greying beards, although some of them defied signs of ageing, which evoked the predictable envious ooh’s and aah’s. The girls were ladies and boys tried to be gentlemen. The quality of leg pulling that ensued made all such pretences melt away in a minute. It did not take much for the children to come out from grown bodies! Pure magic! Thank God their own children were too young to notice the inanities of the jokes – but they would know when they will meet their friends after quarter of century and search for comfort in such inanities. There is magic in such authenticity and the soul feels light when it does not have to conform to an image. That luxury is available with only those who have seen you in running noses and bruised knees, and with those in whose company you have giggled endlessly when thrashed together by the same teacher for a mischief which someone else had committed.

Everyone took a different path and each journey was meaningful – perfect in most ways and imperfect in its own ways – and that is what made it meaningful perhaps. I received a whatsapp wisdom the next day which said “Everything that you fret about today will be meaningless in a year’s time’’. I wonder what we used to fret over 25 years ago and how meaningless it appears today. The only thing that mattered to each one of them was to meet, mingle and reunite. Each found his/her own way of mingling and reuniting and it was not difficult to see that they were happy. The warmth was palpable.

Memories can be fickle – they have a mind of their own. Sometimes they remain embedded in a dark abyss and then with the appropriate triggers and appropriate company they start gushing out in the open. They talked of what they remembered of each other and irrespective of what the nature of the memory, they gushed together. The mush lurked beneath the humour and leg pulling. They realise that the good and the bad is not in the act but in the intent. Since all that happened so long ago was pure, naughty but free of malice, that its recollection releases only an warm ache.

Each will follow his/her own destiny yet will be united in the most powerful way that perhaps even the strongest adult bond will not be able to compete with – that it had no objective. It is the bond that develops when you share a childhood, that precious thing that can only be remembered but never recreated. I just hope they do not take another 25 years to meet again.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Monday Musings 245 -The road trip

Monday Musings 245 -The road trip
On a sudden whim, which most termed as a mild case insanity, I undertook a 2000km odd drive from Mumbai to the place of my birth in Jharkhand. The journey meandered on the east west corridor of the network of national highway, what folks of the road know as the Mumbai – Kolkata NH6. It went past Nasik on its eastern sojourn, met the dying place of Emperor Aurangzeb, now christened as Aurangabad, moved to the fort town of Akola where I took the first halt for the night at the end of 630 kms. Day 2 zipped past on the slippery four laned high way from Amravati, via the capital of vidharba Nagpur to enter the young state of Chhattisgarh via the two cousins Bhilai known for the earliest steel plant of India and then Raipur, its capital. This stretch had world class road although it was not uncommon to see a lazy dog and his master taking a stroll on the highway unmindful of my beast whizzing past.  The bruised body and the vagabond soul began Day 3 by entering western part of Orissa and crossing the fairly abandoned forest areas, although mesmerising in its greenery, via Sambalpur and reaching the mining city of Keonjhar where a north eastern turn made it enter the southern tip of Jharkhand. Waiting across the border were the best roads I had encountered in my 2000km journey in the most backward part of India. (Surprise surprise – someone seems to be working after all).
There are things that one prepares for and then there are things that happen on a road journey. I have always found air travel a very clinical form of travel – it is high on functionality and extremely low on character. There is no experience in it – it’s like a bland dish. It can satiate hunger but it cannot satiate the soul. Road travel, particularly the longer ones has something for all senses.
The road has the festival of sights for the eyes. The sight of topography changing clothes effortlessly is ethereal, from the colour of the soil to the abrupt eruption of the mountains, from the lush expanse of paddy fields that dot the countryside to the agony of barrenness for miles altogether.
The road trip has the smells to lighten you up. The early morning smoke bellowing out of huts, the aroma of dust in the wild is not oppressing, the moistness of the air during the day as you pass the forests and the soundless chill of the night when the only company is the arc of the headlights (even that dies just a few feet ahead) creates a quiet that is uplifting.
The road trip has a stillness that is reinvigorating. The cities whizz past rooted as they have been for years, may be yearning for movement. May be they want to wander but cannot. The villages show the least bit interest in you for they are content or resigned in the way they are. They cannot fathom what the fuss about the long distance road journey is! The caravan of trucks that ply the highways move in a serpentine rhythm. They are like aggressive beasts on the prowl.
Then there are questions that hum in your head. They are existential perhaps. What is most important - is it the sheer craziness and the audacity of the journey that matters? Is the quality of the roads that make a journey worth its while? Is the unpredictability of the journey that adds a zing to it – the fact that you cannot see beyond the next bend prepares you well for all journeys – for isn’t it true that in life too one cannot see beyond the next bend? Is it the direction that matters – and then the quality of roads are just incidental – in which case one is bound to reach the destination sooner than later?
A few asked me if the 2000 kms on the road was tiring. I am tempted to answer that it was a good rest.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Monday Musings 244 - The Halloween Hungama

Monday Musings 244 - The Halloween Hungama
The other day as i was walking into my residential tower, a young boy of 8, a friend of my  elder daughter, stops me and says “Uncle tomorrow is Halloween’’. I could not decipher his drift, if this was information or instruction and so i asked him ‘’Thanks but what do you want me to do’’.  He gave me a deep look, i think it was a healthy blend of astonishment and disappointment, as if i had fallen a few notches in his eyes and then said ‘’I am just informing you – so that you should keep some chocolates for us when we visit you’’.
The residues of my middle class small mofussil upbringing warns me to be careful of boys who happen to be your daughters friends and who are trying to be too friendly to you but then effects of education takes over. I recognise that the boy is only 8 but you see one day he will grow up and i shall still be the girl’s father!
I came back with many thoughts after that brief encounter. I think the boy has vision.  He is clear that he wants chocolates and he is also clears who he wants it from and he is giving an advance notice so that no ill prepared ignoramus father comes in way of his spoils.
Then i think of Halloween. I heard of it only three years back and for the first time came to know that it is almost a festival that children actually enjoy. I always thought it was something to scare – like demons or vampires.  A little google research tells me about the origins of Halloween. What baffles me is why are we celebrating it here but then i keep my mouth shut or else i risk being clubbed with the rabid right wingers who i loathed when they said the same thing about valentine’s day and who are making hay these days because the sun is shining (is it hard to guess who is the sun?).
I find my reaction to this suspiciously close to the reaction of the parents to my generation when they first experienced their children’s growing fascination for Archie’s cards (which later expanded to Archies teddy bear and other assorted mushy things which helped the young ones proclaim their eternal undying love towards someone – which rarely lasted more than a sultry summer or an icy winter).  Those parents never fathomed what was the fuss about these cards and why did we need one day in the year to let the mother, father aunt, brother, sister etc know that we loved them and i don’t understand the fuss about Halloween either. It is someone else’s festival rooted in someone else’s context – it means nothing to us. Now I perfectly understand what our parents went through during the peak of the  Archie’s epidemic.
In its purest form Halloween is about entertaining ghosts and keeping them in good humour so that they do not play truant with our lives on earth. I am reminded of the tribal priest my grandmother used to call in Jharkhand when our cow did not return home in the night. The priest who was called ‘markondow’ or the learned one – would talk to ghosts and tell us that the cow will be found under this tree or that tree, behind this meadow or that. I found the whole practice quite funny or backward or unscientific or worse still very regressive. I wonder what i should call Halloween.
I gotta – i need to buy chocolates for the boy.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Monday Musings 243– Bad is dramatically eventful

Monday Musings  243– Bad is dramatically eventful
Badi bahut dilchasp hai, hangama-khez hai; Neki kathin hai, lohe ke chane chabane ki tarah’’ (bad is interesting,  dramatically eventful; good is difficult, like chewing iron) -
from Massoma, Ismat Chugtai (1962)
 ‘’Dharma is sukhsm – subtle. Its difficult to be good’’ – from the Difficulty of being good (2012)
Separated by language, temperament and background and over 50 years in time, I noticed two authors asking the same question. I was intrigued to find the same thing written in two very different books. Ismat Chugtai was a firebrand author who shook the social establishment when she wrote what she wrote 60 plus years ago. I am told that she was charged for vulgarity in writing and there was a case against her then, a charge that another of my favourite authors Sadat Manto had to fight around the same time.  65 years later both are revered as cult writers and anyone who is a reader of Hindi/Urdu writing and has not read them must do so right away.  Gurcharan Das belongs to the corporate world and studied Mahabharat to find answers about the many layered nature of the good and bad and the above quote is from the book he wrote based on that study.

I am fascinated by Chugtai’s take on what is considered as bad and unacceptable. She finds it ‘interesting dramatic and eventful’.  No wonder vice is a magnet that pulls us and sucks us into it. I am not sure what is the exact word for ‘hangama khez’ in English – the word I have used ‘dramatically eventful’ does not really capture the depth and imagery of the original urdu word.  Bad has the power to disrupt, to create ripples, to create flutter and a drama which has its own life. It has momentum and exhilaration, an ability to make things happen like nothing else. It engenders action which is also immediate and urgent. It’s difficult to resist it. It has a sway over us. Good rarely has that power. It’s boring, drab and a drag. It might have many other virtues but good is rarely exciting. No wonder there are not many takers for it.

I find the polarity of good and bad extremely unnerving and sometimes meaningless too. There are but only a few universal goods i.e. looked at from any angle it is the right thing to do. These are few and far in between. Most of the usual things that get wrecked by this polarity of good and bad in the day to day life – in thoughts, behaviour, conduct etc carry this meaningless burden to falling in any of the two extremes. History they say is written by the victor – the vanquished do not get that opportunity and a few hundred years later no one asks who was right. The powerful dictate the notion of right and wrong – earlier it was the Gods, then it was emperors, then there are elites, parents, teachers and senior leaders in the corporate world. It was Voltaire if guess who said, ‘’morality is the recourse of the weak’. The influential often get away with anything.

I am becoming more and more acutely aware that the right and the wrong change colours over time, sometimes they even change places. It confuses me. Perhaps this is what Das means when he says that dharma is subtle, it is not easy to be good – assuming one knows for sure what is good today and will remain so forever. 

So the two questions if ask myself as if read Chugtai are – Do I need dilchasp/hangamkhez or do I need a life that is drag – at 60 what will I rue more? Second what will it take to liberate myself from the polarity of right and wrong – it’s very draining.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Monday Musings 242 - Two doctors and afterlife

Monday Musings 242 - Two doctors and afterlife

Many springs ago i remember reading the popular novel 'Doctors' by Eric Segal. In the first few pages there was a scene depicted by the author in the first lecture for new class of aspiring doctors in the medical college in which the novel was set, where the welcoming professor says - and i quote from memory at the risk of not being completely accurate "Medical science knows the exact cure for 26 all is guesswork". 
The memory of this came flooding back to me over the last few days as a nagging shoulder pain took me two orthopedics with whom i had some interesting conversation. 

The first one was avuncular, with sufficient grey hair to give the impression of experience and authority. At the end of my examination  i asked him if there was anything i should really be worried about. I told him that i was quite obsessed with healthy eating and regular exercises and try to be as disciplined as a foodie Punjabi could be and that i was quite scared about morbidity, disease and illness. Instead of calming my frayed nerves he gave me a long calm look and asked "Do you believe in second life or reincarnation?" Needless to say i was jolted by his question and spotted the aroma of an interesting conversation. I asked him why does he ask this. Let me try to recreate what he said from memory - "You see everyone is busy making his current life healthy, conveniently forgetting that this life at best will last only 80 odd years. There is no point fretting over making only this life healthy - you should also be worried about making your soul healthy. That will take care of not only this life but also the next - don't worry there is nothing wrong with you"

I am sure you can appreciate my sense of surprise with this rather unexpected answer. The surprise is both in the content of the answer as much as the fact that we usually do not expect someone to be trained in the business of science, rational thinking and evidence based education to talk about something as esoteric (cannot think of a better word) as the business of next life. 

Although it had nothing to do with his last question and the answer i got, i went to second Orthopedic who came with a huge across the board recommendation. At the end of the examination i asked him the same question - if there was something serious and if i should be a worried man. Let me try to recreate from memory what this guy said. - "You see while there is no evidence of anything wrong, the fact that the pain is real. When the problem is certain but the reasons are not known we call that idiopathic - even medical science does not know everything and the doctors learn it the hard way and only with time"

Eric Segal and that quote came flooding back to me at this point. I am intrigued and perplexed both at the same time. We live in times where certainty has a premium - at least in the corporate world it has a huge premium and penalty both. However those who are in the business of life and where certainty of opinions and outcomes can be life giving or life threatening, are veering towards accepting underlying uncertainty of things - what is this obsession with clarity and certitudes the rest of us live with. 

Are we missing something here? Do they know something we will just not accept?


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Monday Musings 241 - Where you want to be....

Monday Musings 241 - Where you want to be....

The other evening over drinks, part buoyed by spirits and part as a banal attempt to carry forward the evening, I asked a few colleagues "what would you be doing if not doing what you are doing". There in hangs the tale for this musing. Not one of them said they would continue to do what they are doing right now.
Lets do a drawing room research. How many of us be doing what we are indeed doing given a choice for the rest of our lives? Will more of us be happy doing what we are doing or will more of us jump ship and do something else? The other dimension of the same question will be will how many of us are indeed doing what we think we should be doing with our lives? Given a choice will we be still doing it? Are encumbrances like money and responsibilities driving this decision more than joy? My hunch is that close to two thirds or even more would answer in negative - that is they would prefer to do something else.

I have done such anecdotal armchair over the drinks kind of research over the years and across organisations and the results are fairly consistent. I have always wondered why practically everyone wants to do something else. It has amazed me that so many remain stuck in things that they want to so desperately get out. It is not the phenomena but the fact that it is so ubiquitous that has baffled me more. Also if everyone is supposed to do something else then who will do what everyone is doing now.

Let's put all the possible reasons in the melting pot and allow it to brew. Lack of courage to make the shift could be one, weak risk appetite could be two, not knowing what the real calling is could be three, lethargy to could be four and not having had the choices could be five. In reality it could be all five.  

I also am wondering if my question itself is loaded. May be this notion of wanting to do something else is pure romanticism of the idea that we are far better than what we have got. It is always easier to believe that we could have done better in what we have never done than accept that we are quite unspectacular in what we are currently doing! (that sounds unkind - may be I should delete it). Coming back to if my question is loaded - because the moment one is ask what would be doing if not this, he embarks on flights of juvenile fancy which keeps changing every few weeks. It allows one to take a break from the drudgery of the nine to five.

I also feel sorry for the guys who hold the onerous task keeping employees engaged. Imagine their plight - if everyone wants to do something else and be somewhere else right now, how will you make them believe this is where they should be.



Sunday, September 20, 2015

Monday Musings 240 - A drink for the 'caves'

Monday Musings 240  - A drink for the 'caves'

My first trip to Ajanta and Ellora caves has left me gasping. I do not understand the art of sculpting or cannot discern the quality  in murals, neither do i have a connoisseur bone in my body about these things. However what i saw definitely touched me in strange ways. Here are a few ways in which it did.

The board outside Ellora said that it took more than 200 years to make them. I find that to be overwhelming. It is inconceivable for me that a group of people, most likely monks would hammer away for generations and carve out such exquisite geometric structure, such fabulous design thinking, such perfect symmetry and such intricate engravings - all of this managed successfully while cutting away one single rock from the top (compare this that all modern structures are built bottoms up). Some caves are Buddhist, some Jain and some Hindus. Some people must take lessons from this happy coexistence. 

The Ajanta caves are breathtaking. They practically hang atop a small river. They are universally Buddhist in themes. I will leave the religion aside for a moment. What mesmerized me the scale at which monks have worked with the rocks. I cannot even begin to imagine the mind of men who would have first decided to hew a rocky mountain and create an elaborate labyrinth of prayer room of sorts. It took me a while to deal with that choking sensation when i realized that the largest of those caves was prayer room almost two times the size of houses that most of us live in. All of that cut through the rocks!!

I wonder about the motivations of such men who would for years together chisel the lifeless mountains and carve out breathtaking giant size deities, with themes, eye for detail and embellishments that will put a Sanjay Leela Bhansali set to shame - all of that some 2000 years ago. I wonder what would such a person be as a child, youth and and an adult. I wonder what would be his fabric, what would be his self talk, what would he think every day morning (and cheekily i also ask what would be his thoughts on a Monday morning!!). 

I wonder what would be his last thoughts as he would be lying on his last moments and would have seen what he had managed to create out of the recalcitrant and lifeless rocks - how much life he had breathed into them. Would he be smug? would he be vain? Would he just shrug it away as such possessed men are wont to do?

They said that the monks who worked on these caves would mediate while they were working on these caves. I am not sure about it - may be the making of the caves was meditative. Who knows?

As one stands at a vantage point and witness the panorama of caves from outside, before one has visited the caves and witnessed the magnitude of human creativity, one is impressed. When one repeats the panorama after a visit of each of those caves one would perhaps feel tiny and petty. One cannot help but experience the enormity of human application around and it does not rest on the shoulders lightly. It has a power to push through every sinews of your body and soul and demand a life that must yield much more than what it has yielded so far. It is a challenge only the blind and insensitive will be able to ignore. 

I wonder who were the men who assiduously built something like this. I wonder if they knew that it will last 2000 years and still inspire. I wonder if i will leave behind something for even 2000 minutes. 

Gosh - i need a drink. !


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Monday Musings 239 - That Enigma called God

Monday Musings 239 - That Enigma called God

‘’Somewhere along the way man met God and both exclaimed, My creator!”– A whatsapp forward.

It is within a few days of receiving this that I chanced upon the book ‘’History of God’’ by Karen Armstrong, an ex nun and now an authority on the subject. I have just read two pages of the book and wondered about my own views on this subject. So before I allow my view to be coloured or influenced by a well researched book I thought I will put down what is my current position on this subject or may be the lack of it.

I am not sure if God is a person or an abstraction, I am not sure if he someone to be loved or feared, I am also not sure if he is to be explored or revered. All I know is that he is too important to most people, so important that they can go to any extreme in his name. I don’t know if He Himself is mild or moderate in his disposition and temperament but I can well see that his followers do not hesitate to go to extremes to protect his reputation from hurt real or imagined. I don’t know if he sees us all the time from some vantage point as many would like us to believe but I do know that we keep Him around us all the time. I don’t know if he is jovial and fun loving and if he has fun doing his business of keeping this well oiled machine called universe firmly in its place and engines running but I do know that his followers and disciples do lack a sense of humour.

I don’t know if I was created by Him or whether he holds the strings to my destiny and hence it is advisable to be in His good books. I don’t know if I should listen to the rationalists and believe only that I can see and prove or go by the merchants of faith who ask me to ‘just submit’ and let Him handle what is eloquently called my destiny. What I do know is that I fear bad outcomes; unfulfilled dreams and that I do not understand and cannot explain many things that happen around me. Inexplicability is fertile ground for faith to flourish. Fear creates conditions for search of an anchor.

Who is God and what role does he play in my life appears to be a metaphysical question on one hand and an extremely practical question on another. I am confused if there is ‘My God’ and ‘Your God’ and ‘Other Gods’, because if there is monotheism as a concept I don’t see much of it these days. I am confused about the business of organised religion. Rituals that I grew up with which were at the centre of the notion of God and which gave me comfort and succour till a while back are increasingly appearing meaningless. Should I worry about the scorns of the heavens?

If God is an ‘Experience’ as the mystics have told that He is and that He reveals Himself only to the deserving, then I guess so far I am not deserving. I have no such epiphany so far.

I knew about us as Homo sapiens – I have discovered two new phrases in the recent past – that we are also Homo Economicus and Homo Religiosus. This means that there is an innate need in each of us to want to believe in something bigger than us. In worshipping something spectacular we perhaps uplift ourselves too.
I see two contradicting phenomena around me emerging simultaneously - the space allocated to God in the daily chore of life is both shrinking and expanding. It is shrinking because it is more and more becoming ritualistic and a weekend activity to some and it is expanding in the sense that more and more Godmen and Godwomen are emerging every day. Elementary marketing - if so many are selling then there must a large demand!

I understand Voltaire far more now when he said – ‘’IF God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him’’.  I guess the book shall be an interesting read.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

238 Monday Musings – A disturbing epiphany

238 Monday Musings – A disturbing epiphany

Last week I had a disturbing epiphany as I met my school English teacher after decades when I visited her in the school she teaches now in Bhubaneswar. The joy of seeing her is beyond description. I saw in amazement how she is still the same - selfless, soft, warm but reticent in her expression of warmth. I can only hope that she would have seen in me that her work has had unimaginable powers and would have added to her faith in what she has been doing all these decades.

I told her in the brief meeting that my lasting regret in life was not to have studied literature, considering that she taught us English, and that I wasted my prime studying the eminently boring and unimaginative world of the sciences. I wanted to tell her more and more about this regret, the pursuit of which was curtailed by the overhang of paucity of time in our rather short meeting. I wanted to tell her that more damage has been done to Indian youth by the pursuit of making them engineers and doctors in the last few decades that the collective damage unleashed by TV, drugs, burgers and Baywatch, the quartet I believe are each devastating enough in their own might. I wanted to tell her that she should have told me then and there that I should have taken languages as my vocation and not bothered to tame the calculus, Newtonian mechanics and pharmacopoeia, which in any case I have not used to change even a bulb or change diapers after having spent sleepless nights agonizing over it.

As I was coming out of the school I was taken to a room where over a dozen students were studying earnestly for their IIT. On a notecopy opened in front of me was the scary serpent of the integrative calculus and I realized that calculus is still out in the open – traumatizing yet another generation. Someone should take retributive if not legislative action on calculus! Don’t they have courts or public interest litigation around these things? Can’t we have a signature campaign to ban calculus before the age of 60 – I guess only the senile should study it but that is exactly what you become if do study it before 60. I desperately wanted to ask the hapless child if he liked languages or sports but did not have the courage. I had a disturbing epiphany – the more things changed the more they remained same.

On my journey back, i remembered every one of my classmates in school, how they were, what were they instinctively and intuitively good at and what career choices they made, how aligned these choices were to their natural flair and most importantly how much of what they studied are they using in the work that they are doing today. I will keep the good doctor in the batch out of this list on humanitarian grounds, but when I think of a person from my batchmates in school who are doing anything remotely productive with their education, I can come up with only one bloke, who after his hotel management degree, cooks Indian food and sells Indian tea in London to bored and nostalgic Indians and the exotic obsessed Brits. I would have never imagined way back that he would ever feature in a list I will make which has praise for him, but one must give any devil his dues!!. So hats off Awinish – keep fleecing the Brits – they deserve it.  

As for the rest – wait for your epiphany. Disturbance is guaranteed.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Monday Musings 237 - Pain in Praise

Monday Musings 237 - Pain in Praise

Praise can be London weather or Mumbai traffic – totally and utterly unpredictable. What appears like sunny and smooth can soon be grey, cloudy and a depressing snarl. Here is sample to illustrate the point. What do you notice in an otherwise effusive praise that goes like this – “you carry yourself very well and you dress up well; at you age I think you are quite fit”?

In what was turning out to be the best confidence booster for someone just turned 40, the script went horribly wrong. Irredeemable damage. This is not what he was prepared for. The whole thing appeared to be working out quite well till the descriptor ‘at your age’ punctured the ego that was just beginning to inflate. Only a 40 year old who has just been reminded by a twenty something from the other gender can really understand the havoc such a statement can unleash. What began as a fairy tale ended up like a horror movie – as if turning 40 was not enough.

Most 40 year olds would tell you that the bloody number does not do justice to what they feel about themselves. The 20's are times when one wants to do stuff and can actually do it although one may be not be able to afford it always. The 30's one can afford it, can do it as well and often end up doing it although sometimes not knowing why. At 40 however one can certainly afford it, think that one can do it but often realize that the Rubicon may have crossed. Ask him to climb 10 flights of stairs for example and feel the heart trying to jump out of its place(valid for most cases) or wear low waist-tight fitting-neon clothes and see others heart actually jumping out its place! A Chinese proverb says it so well – “If only youth knew and age could”.

Then there is the counter attack of language, particularly in the way phrases are structured,  like – 'age is just a number or a state of mind' or 'I feel 20 even if am much older' 'I am ageing gracefully' and many other humbug like this. I think it is valiant effort by the not so young to use argument to win over facts, use decibel to drown truth. The mirror might reflect back strands of grey, the body might have wobbly knees, the face might betray shadows and lines and some  other sundry clinching evidences might be telling a different tale but the denial is strong and steady. The more intense is the realization of ageing, stronger is its defense. Parlours and gyms make merry – and some very sophisticated con artists run marathons!

So coming back to incident I am still unsure about how should this be allowed to register. Should it feel extremely good or shall it be a rude awakening. One cannot help but smile – I guess this qualifies as black humor - stark but funny. The poor lass who was just being nice and cordial would not even be aware that she let the cat amongst the pigeons (or would the phrase ‘bull in the china shop’ be more apt).

Friends might console that the script could have been much worse. It is a close shave they say, ‘You do look you age’ is far worse than ‘you don’t look your age’ isn’t it?

Small mercies, eh?


Monday, August 10, 2015

Monday Musings 236 The fickleness of muscle memory

Monday Musings 236 The fickleness of muscle memory

As a wannabe writer i feel i do not have range. I tend to write about only a few things more and more. This self view haunts me. I guess i will have to live with it or keep struggling to expand the range. This preamble was needed because the trigger to this musings is yet again my ongoing relationship with running. 

Last week i ran another of my half marathon amidst the picturesque locale of durshett - a jungle track in the western ghats, amidst drizzle, lush greenery, a stream flowing along and grey and cloudy skies and hints of waterfalls in not too distant hills. I struggled through the distance that i had believed that i had mastered over the last 5 years through and having participated in almost a score of such runs of 21 kms. Nothing is more damaging to a runners self esteem than the sight of his timings plummeting to practically what it was 5 years ago!. It is the equivalent of a writers block or a stars next movie going bust (i like the comparison - it glamorizes my grief!). 

Last 6 months have been a case of poor practice and irregular running and it showed in the timings and the over exhaustion and limb aches even before i had reached the mid way mark. I should have known better than to be surprised by the outcome because i have had one of the most erratic running discipline in the last 6 months ever. However buoyed by pure self confidence and a notion of past achievement, undeterred by the grim face of truth, i ran and faced my comeuppance. 

So here are my lessons from the fall from grace in a manner of speaking. 

1. Muscle memory is weak. So is talent and capability. Even a brief slowdown in practice would show. A famous violinist allegedly said is once "if i do not practice for a month the audience know; if i do not practice for a week my wife knows and if i do not practice for a day I know'.

2. Muscle memory is also fickle. It goes away sooner than the click of a mouse (blink of an eye is so passe). So is expertise - which has to be kept on its toes all the times. I have never experienced the 'sharpening the saw' phrase in stronger force ever - what if i was jolted by it. 

3. Muscle memory is not a dependable ally. Self confidence based out of the comfort of 'i have done it so many times in the past' can be unpredictable and delusional. It usually sets us up for a royal fall. 

While i am determined now to train myself back to the capability levels of yore, the big question that has been haunting me since the run is - "what other areas of my expertise is rusted for the want of practice and i am not even aware of the rust"
What about you?