Saturday, April 8, 2017

Ikiru's Secret of Happiness

Strangely funny, Harvard would conduct a 75 year study to convince humanity that the secret to happiness lies in relations. In other words, outside your ‘self’. However, Kurosawa, in Ikuru (To Live, 1952) furthers the point that it actually lies in selfless action, Nishkama Karma. One of the best scripts ever written with dialogues so measured that every line hits hard like a punch line. Watch it (Ikiru (1952)).

 The Living Dead - We see a man like you and me, completely defined by bureaucratic machines of modern society and the meaningless busy-ness (business?) it ensues. He does nothing except protect his position by doing nothing, better still, by appearing busy. We see a noble idea, to covert a sewage to children’s park, get entangled in meaningless complexity called human society. A permission needs the nod of departments ad infinitum…Park Dept->Health Dept->Sanitation Dept->Environment Sanitation Dept->Dept of Prevention of Infectious Diseases->Division of Pest Control->Sewage Dept of City Hall->Roads Dept->City Planning Dept->Ward ReOrg Dept->Fire Dept-> Education Dept->Mayor’s Office! We do not know whether to laugh or fear the absurdity of our own monstrous creations. We wonder why and how this meaningless comes about. Indeed, only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe. Einstein said that, not me.

I think the constant struggle of the Individual with the State (or Collective) will ever be. Though we live and leave this existence as individuals, both Society and State are inescapable realities to be dealt with. Mankind, unlike other species, have a gift to differentiate and chose, but choice is tough and double-edged with the freedom (of choosing) and the liability (of choosing it). And without a reference for ideal choice (of living), this dilemma kills his appetite for risk or differentiation. And hence, all collective ensemble (i.e. state or society) inevitably degrades to meaningless bureaucratic cesspools with every individual seeking meaning in protecting his or her existence a.k.a position. Forget government establishments, even in private enterprises, Peter Principle ensures that people rise to their levels of incompetence in a hierarchy. And thus we have the Watanabes of this world.

The Reset - Then one morning, Watanabe’s priorities reset when he discovers cancer with a few months left…Suddenly, the ‘Individual’ realizes the meaninglessness extended by Society. Are we similar sleeping giants happily ignorant of our potential to make a difference? Like Randy Pausch, Watanabe realizes he needs to ‘live’ his last lecture.

The Realization - But Watanabe struggles to find meaning to his existence. 'No matter how hard I try, I cannot remember a single thing I did in that office for last 30 years! I was just busy and bored’ Covey asks the same mute question. Why are we so dissatisfied with our jobs? Watanabe tries binge drinking, night clubs but…He asks a bubbly girl in his department, ‘Why are you so incredibly alive…I don’t know what but you seem to know WHAT. What is this secret to happiness? Beyond work and eat, what do you do?’ He pleads. She doesn’t quite realize the profoundness herself but she explains…'All I do is make these little dolls. It makes me happy. I feel I am playing with all the children in Japan. Why don’t you make something like this?'

Finally Watanabe recognizes selflessness from self-preservation. He wonders if it’s too late…but again realizes ‘action’ is rooted in the present. And past nor future is never a measure of what is possible in present. Only the will to do matters. “I just need to find the will”…he rushes out and the background breaks into a happy birthday party symbolizing a new beginning.

Watanabe - The Legend Here we see the genius of Kurosawa. We are now at Watanabe’s funeral. We no longer see him alive nor get to hear him explain WHY. Only through eulogies and perspectives of people at the funeral, we are invited to figure out Watanabe's personality and achievements. After all, he had achieved the impossible against all odds building the children’s park. Using this fragmented approach, Kurosawa reminds us how fragmented or biased our own understanding of reality can be. We also realize how myths are created. Watanabe has become a legend much like Shiva and countless gods we have now.

It gets funnier; nobody understands nor can explain why Watanabe did this selfless act. What was the motive? Was it lofty idealism? Was it an act of silent protest against bureaucracy? Righteousness? All excuses are discussed. Perhaps, he knew his impending death. Perhaps remorse over his ‘illicit relation’ was the motivation. Every effort is made by the System (Major and the depts.) to justify itself and negate the possibility that an ‘Individual’ on his own, can do anything if he so wills. In fact, we realize selflessness as a purpose is considered a contradiction to humanity. If we find one, we will canonize and anoint him or her a saint and worship.

 Kurosawa mocks the society further. We see Watanabe’s inebriated fans swear to be like him aka the worshipper community. Some others, like critics community, reason they would also have done likewise if they had cancer. The enigma becomes complete, when the policeman who saw him last reminiscences, Watanabe looked so happy in the cold winter, humming a song on a swing in the children park before the night he died. All gods and legends are created thus…like Shiva now Watanabe. In the end only Ideas or Intentions or Purpose immortalized through Acts remain…the Park, a modern temple.

 Two words sums up everything. Selfless Action. Ironically, only that is self-consistent in this Universe. In fact, in the self-consistency principle underlining the bootstrap theory (On Causality), only selfless action is aligned with nature. That is the law of Karma. So it is not in your relations nor in your ‘self’, that you can find meaning. Meaning can only be found in your action. In creating something. And that too for others. That’s our Dharma. When you do that, you are that. Tat Tvam Asi!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Runner is the Run

When you run, everything is different. You feel like a constant with everything around you moving. A sense of detachment sets in and it helps see things differently.
On weekends when I do longer stints, I cross the Akkulam bridge and see the ‘african payal’ eat up what is otherwise a beautiful lake. Just then, the Zen couplet made perfect sense…

“The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection
The water has no mind to retain their image”

Ironically these beautiful lines seem to negate something beautiful. Because in objective reality, neither the geese nor the lake in the setting expect the onlooker to ‘react’ to the spectacle. Alan Watts once joked ‘the clouds are not floating peacefully for the artists to be painted’! I guess, we human beings have a problem. We have this irresistible urge to ‘interpret’ and ‘judge’ what we see. Of course, it is essential mechanism to our survival. It is perhaps a natural outcome of consciousness and intelligence’s evolution itself. This process of interpreting is the first step towards ‘understanding’. But it also leads to conclusions, judgments and responses. Perhaps this is how the ‘ego’ or the Self reinforces itself every second of its identity, integrity and existence.

Here, you are overwhelmed by the symmetry of reflection of those white geese over a serene placid lake. The beauty is indeed too much to bear that your heart fills with joy. Your mind digs deep to retrieve a longing affection lurking somewhere (coded in its pre-historic DNA winding). In fact, our greatest sense of familiarity and comfort to certain settings have been well researched. In Edward Wilson's words "Human Nature is the ensemble of such hereditary regularities in mental development that bias cultural evolution in one direction...and thus connect genes to culture in the brain of every person."

Unfortunately, the flow of thoughts do not stop. An affinity to protect this Kodak moment and its actors take hold. Your mind wander on... environmental protection, green peace... what not. Carl Jung strongly believed that the problems we (humans) have are a result of our self-consciousness (the resultant ego) and our honest attempt to make things better. We are wired to have an opinion on anything and everything. And worse. Act with a conviction that we ought to do something about it. We are unable to let things be and remain unattached. Like the wild geese and the lake. There was never an intention…

Isa Upanishad Verse 2 sings, only by performing detached actions should man aspire to live on. Let your actions not produce any attachment in you!

"Kurvanne-veha karmani            doing only ‘detached’ actions,
Jiji-vishey-chhatam samah          should one aspire to live for ever
Evam twayi nanyathtosti             if this is done, 
na karma lipyate nare"                then action does not bind you!
and perhaps, the whole of Bhagavad Gita exhorts us to this same detached action.

Neuroscience based SCARF model tell us that the brain processes and classifies every incoming stimuli as threat or reward (five times every second!). The brain or ‘Self’ then decides to move away or towards the stimuli. By logical extension, one might as well argue that you associate with any stimuli you like ( for example, this scenic setting) as your own or you. It becomes a part of your identity, gets etched in memory (like ‘Oh my god’s own country’ tag). But in reality, there is nothing to be attached (to). You are unconsciously getting identified with the knowledge or label, thus increasing your territory of identity and taking up the onus of defending this baggage of knowledge as your own identity and existence as you run along…

Unfortunately the human condition has a natural propensity to gravitate towards attachment. As the findings in neuroscience suggest, ‘evolution’ oriented our cognition skills to store the past, to compare and differentiate, to understand and then to act and innovate. While this has triggered ‘development’ of human species (in terms of science and technology et al) and an appreciation of creativity through arts, the basic human condition has suffered from this active interpretation and intervention. One has become so much conditioned by intelligence, that, recognizing attachment as the flip side of intelligence begs a high level of detachment if not transcendence.

So should one look away? No. Seeing and enjoying the moment was the intended action. But it stops right there. Remember, neither lake nor the geese carry the burden (that is, the scene) you now carry in your mind. As the famous Zen tale of 'Two Monks and a Woman' goes “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”

Well, if you ponder on and continue to run, the mystery only deepens…they say, there are just two entities at any instance, the Observer (you) and the Observed (lake and geese). I look ahead and I realize...It will take many more miles to catch up with those elite runners like Jiddu...when they look around they say, they see the observer as the observed!

Observe, and in that observation, there is neither the observer nor the observed, there is only observation taking place - courtesy JK.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

On Causality

Writing in itself is tough, writing on Causality is next to impossibility. Let me explain. Causality is defined as ‘cause’ of something. Say, an event A is ‘caused’ by number of preconditions and reasons. Of all variants of questions (such as What? Where? When? How? Why?) you throw at something, to comprehend it, ‘Why’ perhaps seeks the core.
  •   What ? – tries to explain nature of event witnessed
  •   Where? – handles the  ‘space’ aspect of event witnessed
  •   When? – typically handles the ‘time’ aspect of it
  •   How? – handles the very process that happened
  •   But Why? –captures the REASON why it happened after all!
WHY seeks to tackle Causality, the cause of anything. In fact, Science has built its foundations on Time, Space and Causality. By logical reasoning and scientific empirical rigor, we study why something happened. If event A and B caused event C to occur, then A and B become for us, the sole reasons, to why C exists. Suddenly the MEANING of C becomes A and B. That’s how science and our mind have come to grasp it. (well, science can get really psychedelic with its ‘Causal Loops’ and Retro-causality but let us keep it simple). Where ever, Science failed to explain the cause, we have digressed to take comfort in astrology, occult and God. Thus, significance of causality is that, human cognition has hardwired ‘causality’ to give meaning to anything. Second, if we traverse back in time-space, interpreting what-caused-what?, right back to the point of Big Bang, (beyond which even Space-Time have no meaning) and ask…not just ‘How’ Big Bang occurred but more importantly, ‘Why’ did it occur?... we are suddenly in the realm of Primal Cause and nature of Reality itself.

But why am I gung ho about this WHY?...turns out there are two WHYs to most things that haunt us…let’s say, somebody gets killed at 45, one ‘why’ gets us to careless driving or some ‘unfortunate’ freak event and we are okay with it. But then, a child dies when he is just 2, some illness…the regular ‘why’ still scientifically gets you there with its reasons, but it just isn’t enough for you!…you ask again, but Why?...why did it happen…no matter what we deduce, negligence or whatever…we just don’t understand why he had to die so young Or rather why was he born even?!!...Come to think of it, we start realizing we have no clue as to why anything and everything is really happening in this world after all. We want to make sense of this apparent absurdism of existence and experience. That’s why, we keep at it…to decipher the point of it all.

Our strongest tool, Science, has always adopted reductionism, built simplified models to study any phenomena in isolation. Progressively, improving its mathematical models to inch closer to Reality. The unexplained were retained as empirical physical ‘constants’ (e.g. velocity of light or Planck’s constant) in its mathematical expressions and it was argued, when all constants get explained, science would have for itself, the grand Theory of Everything.  The underlying principle in divide and conquer approach, has been this belief that, once parts are individually explained away, with nothing left to resolve, the WHOLE will naturally reveal itself…But what is it that we are studying?

In Isa Upanishad, there is a small prayer, a mathematical formula too, trying to explain Reality.

Poornamatha, Poornamitham
Poornath Poornamudhachathe
Poornasya Poornamadhayaa
Poornamedha avashishthe

‘This’ Completeness and ‘That’ Completeness/Infinity
From ‘That’ Completeness arises ‘This’ Completeness
From ‘That’ Completeness when you reduce ‘This’ Completeness
Only Completeness remains!

Infinity – Infinity = Infinity  (mathematical equation!)

It simply states, we (our soul atman) are essentially beyond matter and are consciousness ourselves; and also, a part of the greater Reality or Universal Consciousness. More importantly, it draws the distinct observation, that, we are not just part of the whole but also, simultaneously, the whole itself. One is stunned to see Vedic mathematics blend with the mystical, in explaining this essential nature of Reality. Infinity and Completeness are all properties of the fundamental nature of Reality which is nothing but Consciousness (satyam jnanam anantam brahman - Taittiria Upanishad).

For layman, mystical poet, William Blake captures the same vision in

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

The infinite complexity of Universe (macrocosm) remains unexplained even in grain and further microcosm (i.e. elementary particles). The indivisibility of complexity perplex us. The essential nature of Heaven (i.e. beauty) is seen in essential nature of its manifestations (Flower) and again, the same indivisibility of ‘Beauty’ shines through. Beauty! a quality, science cannot broach! What causes us to appreciate and recognize beauty is a mystery. Is it something within us that helps us recognize it? Like a father recognizing himself in his child. And likewise, Space, Time, their infinite vastness, all retain their indivisibility, yet suddenly lose their meaning in laws of relativity, causing Causality to become the ultimate casualty.

Intuitively we ask, do the PARTS make up the WHOLE? Or does the WHOLE manifest in its PART? Think of fundamental ‘particles’ as WORDS and ‘Universe’ as a SENTENCE for a moment. Now, can you pinpoint the ‘meaning’ of the sentence amongst its words? Where did the meaning of the sentence come from?!...alas, does it now make sense to seek the meaning of universe in its constituent particles? Can the part ever explain the whole?

Science gets it now. The Bootstrap Hypothesis by Geoffrey Chew postulates that Nature has to understood through its ‘self-consistency’(i.e. ability to not contradict itself). The model points to self-consistency(an underlying order?) of the whole and all of physics follows from this one fundamental principle, that, components must be consistent with themselves and one another. In Chew’s own words “The only mechanism that meets the general principles of physics is the mechanism of Nature…the observed particles are the only quantum and relativistic systems that can be designed without internal conflict. Each nuclear particle plays three roles (1) constituent of the compound (2) mediator of the force responsible for overall cohesion of the compound (3) the composed system”. In other words, clearly stating that, the part appears simultaneously as the whole.

Of course, it is very difficult to logically conceive, this idea of ‘Interpenetration’ but it was beautifully described 2500 years ago, through an old Indian metaphor, the “Indra’s Net”, an Hindu God, whose ‘heaven’ was described as a network of jewels, so arranged that, looking at any one of them, you see all others reflected in it. Something like Mendelbrot’s fractals. In short, universe is no longer an assemblage of fundamental entities or fields that cannot be reduced further but is rather, a dynamic web of inter-connected events. The bootstrap principle can, in fact, be generalized beyond particles to include macrocosm, life, consciousness, as a philosophy of nature. The self-consistency of the whole requires all aspects of nature to be included.

The Law of Karma (of ‘cause’ and ‘effect’) or the Bible underlines the same inter-connectedness. ‘As ye sow, so also shall ye reap’. There is nothing stand-alone or fundamental in this world. The laws of nature are inherent in nature and not imposed by a divine force. All parts of the whole conform to it because of their very nature of existence as parts of the indivisible whole. The Law arises from the need to fit precisely into the place with others; the self-consistency of the whole. This concept of Bootstrap principle is in absolute alignment with Law of Karma that underlines the same interconnectedness and unavoidability of all human affairs with Nature. No single phenomenon can be fully understood in isolation because of the inter-relatedness and indivisibility of the whole. And more startlingly, the Nature and its laws are simply seen the way they are, is because that is the only way, we are equipped or wired to perceive or conceptualize or see them! In fact, all theories of natural phenomena are creations of our mind for our conceptual understanding and not Reality in itself.

Alas! we began with an important question of human cognition, WHY…only to realize the futility of asking it!

  1. Causality & Science
  2. Philosophy of Existence and Modern Science
  3. From Modernity to Cosmodernity: Science, Culture, and Spirituality

Monday, January 5, 2015

Without Limits

“All of my life, man and boy, I have operated under the assumption that the main idea in running was to win the damn race. Actually when I became a coach I, I tried to teach people how to do that. I tried to teach Pre(fontaine) how to do that. I tried like hell to teach Pre to do that. And Pre taught me, taught me I was wrong. Pre, you see, was troubled by knowing that a mediocre effort can win a race. And a magnificent effort can lose one. Winning a race wouldn't necessarily demand that you give it everything you have from start to finish. He never ran any other way. I tried to get him to. God knows, I tried. But Pre was stubborn. He insisted on holding himself to a higher standard than victory. A race is a work of art. That's what he said. That's what he believed. And he was out to make it one every step of the way. Of course, he wanted to win. Those who saw him compete and those who competed against him were never in any doubt about how much he wanted to win. But how he won mattered to him more. Pre thought I was a hard case. But he finally got it through my head that the real purpose of running isn't to win a race. It's to test the limits of the human heart. And that he did. Nobody did it more often. Nobody did it better.” - Coach Bill Bowerman on Steve Prefontaine in “Without Limits”(1998). Pre died in a car crash 1975. His records stand unbroken even to this day. He was only 24 years old.

These words mean so much. Not because, I share a love for running but in these, I found all the answers. And to have so found it, in a eulogy for a distance runner (that too, in a simple movie and not some clichéd self-help literature) was indeed pleasantly funny. The four insights pretty much sums up everything about life and the art of living it.

First, the Dilemma (1) A mediocre effort can win a race and a magnificent effort can lose one. A premise that seems to fundamentally oppose The Gita ’The end justifies the means’. Yes, the main idea is to win the damn race. There is no questioning the practicality of it, the cold bloodedness of Logic. But if so, why is it that we still feel unjustified, unsatisfied about it…an incompleteness or sense a violation of spirit.

The Underlying Principle (2) Hold oneself to a higher standard than victory Is there a standard higher than Victory?! The fundamental question again; are Means higher than End? Yes,...there are Immeasurable (standards) greater than victory. It is just that we cannot define nor capture them. Immeasurable(s), like the will, passion and values, all constitute another dimension. A man can be motivated to give up his life for them, making them priceless and undefeated. Yet, one can also buy them cheap from someone else who doesn’t give a damn about them as well. That’s what makes these intangibles beyond comprehension. A virtue’s value is thus dependent solely on the beholder’s perception. One cannot defeat or buy someone’s value without his permission. He might sell himself or choose to make it immeasurable by dying for it. When you elevate yourself or your worth thus…to the highest levels of existence, you near a perfection, a godliness… immortality and infinite greatness far greater in glory than victory.
Victory, one realizes, is essentially deterministic in concept. Someone has to win; hence, you define a quantifiable differentiator, such as, a time limit in a race. And in doing so, we step down to the realm of the measureable. But can any of the immeasurable(s) such as values, commitment, happiness be compared, let alone quantified. Senses (like sound) can probably be measured or compared but feelings(?). Homo Sapiens is not just about 1800 cc of cognition and logic but also, Humanity or Human-ness, an innate ability to sense and feel the immeasurable(s) dimensions, where measuring is a contradiction or denial. In fact, we look stupid, assuming ‘running’ to be quantifiable whereas poetry or anything Art is not!

The Truth (3) A race is a work of art. When do we call something, Art? Can Art be explained?  Yes, perhaps in negatives or esotericism. We find people equate it to Beauty, Love, Truth... Didn’t Robert Frost famously once warn ‘Poetry is what gets lost in translation”…But you nevertheless feel an inexplicable joy or meaning in them. Because, Art represents the finest form and refinement of a purpose, an intent and action. Any act, even a software design…when it nears the limits of perfection, that’s when, it begins to resemble you at your best…your finest expression of creativity, your finest moment of existence, the sole purpose of being alive. Every act or thought can become art…art then is nothing but the most meaningful expression of any action…not in just poetry or abstract painting but even ‘mundane’ running, cooking or say cold scientific pursuit…Michael Faraday, father of electromagnetism confessed “I am no poet, but if you think for yourselves, as I proceed, the facts will form a poem in your minds

The Realization (4) Real purpose of running isn't to win a race. It's to test the limits of the human heart.  One often wonders why mankind continue to push limits of endurance or existence...climb the Everest, running 100 mile ultra-marathons or the other extreme, like Admiral Richard Byrd, spent 5 months alone in a shack in Antarctic @ -70o C (and emerge convinced ‘Half the confusion in the world comes from not knowing how little we need’!)….because they find meaning in it. Doing something over and over perhaps ensures a comfort zone but boredom too…the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in…Familiarity breeds not only contempt but kills the soul, the very essence of living…so while majority wilts away, some keep pushing the limits, to experience Life better…to feel alive. The truth is that, the real purpose of anything meaningful shall always remain beyond logical explanation. It can only be felt, never explained.

Even in a physically intensive disciple like long distance running, the moment one transgresses from the world of brain to that of heart, giving oneself up totally to the ‘purpose’…the essential Reality reveals itself…resulting in Immeasurable joy. Life’s purpose is felt in the Heart and not thought-through the Brain. Come to think of it, there is little wonder too; the heart knows much more than the brain…it developed its own ‘auto-rhythmic’ beating system much before…they say, the heart has over 40,000 neurons, its own independent nervous system…that’s where the Will, Passion and numerous Immeasurable originate and reside…reasoning and logic probably evolved much later.

Mathematician John Nash, in his acceptance speech for Nobel Prize, looks at his beloved Alicia and acknowledges ‘What truly is logic? Who decides reason? My quest has taken me to the physical, the metaphysical, the delusional, and back. I have made the most important discovery of my career - the most important discovery of my life. It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logic or reasons can be found. I am only here tonight because of you…you are all my reasons’ A Beautiful Mind’, 2001.

Why does Paulo Coelho and the amazing Alchemist appeal to us so much…

“Everyone believes the world's greatest lie..." says the mysterious old man.
"What is the world's greatest lie?" the little boy asks.
The old man replies, "It's this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That's the world's greatest lie.”
 Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

“The boy and his heart had become friends, and neither was capable now of betraying the other.”
― Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist

“Well, then, why should I listen to my heart?"
"Because you will never again be able to keep it quiet.”
― Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist

“Where your treasure is, there also will be your heart.” 
 Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Genome of the Wild Lilies

Recently, I was at a client’s workshop, when this probing question came up. How do we enjoy so much commitment amidst our engineers? What values drive them to adapt a client’s culture, appreciate their needs? What training instill this spirit? What is that sets you apart? Your Key Differentiators?

In other words, what’s your DNA?

We looked at each other. It was not the first time this has happened. Been part of several discussions, from branding to pre-sales, to nail this ‘obvious’. And it is ironical, quite appalling that an outsider should trigger introspection. Of course, one can sugarcoat technical ‘differentiators’ that hardly sound different or rant about a remote hometown that offers little alternatives but it would be cliched!

So I had to ask myself again. What is the soul of this institution? Was it is to be realized in the vision and goals of an organization. Ought it to be found in the dreams of its founding fathers? If nothing exists, why did my clients keep harping on the commitment and values seen? Surely, there was something, not stereotype but so damn right about us, something, which was never taught. 

It felt interesting to root out the distinctions, and their reasons.

We do not come through as a passionate aggressive fun loving community. We hardly kick-ass in  any celebration and ‘demo’. On the contrary, we appear meek, at best nerdy and conservative. People who have left us swear we were different. Outsiders are quick to spot that most people are knowledgeable, have walked the talk. It is fact; we despise ‘thallu’, this propensity to talk strategy. We talk less, grudgingly do more. The chilling facade of professionalism never took roots. Was it the mallu attitude or the ‘engineering stuff’ we claim we do, to blame for all this. Or the lack of vision and leadership in conceiving a mechanism to think global. Any serious institution (say, GE’s Crotonville) spends a fortune in consciously building its leaders and identity.

Or…can Identity just ‘evolve’ the wild lilies in wild abandon.

The most obvious differentiation has been one of (1) single ethnicity. It is and always has been a mallu company. The de facto lingo has been Malayalam. We speak and think Malayalam. In my opinion, pretty much everyone grossly underestimates this simple fact. When you have everyone from the same cultural setting, several ‘Impossibles’ become possible. The connection or communication is in another realm. Levels of productivity soar. So much more the ‘eda-poda’ camaraderie brings. The Mallu mindset is deeply closeted like any ethnic group. We have our own dark jokes, role plays, politics that break the trappings of conventional professionalism. It is not a punch line to say that we are family or flat organization. And unconsciously, we have come to fall in love with the unprofessional-ism of it all. People lack business etiquette but work with their heart. Such trust can be achieved in family business and product companies perhaps, but it is unheard of, in service industry. In fact, I was not surprised with a Japanese client's observation on this correlation of high productivity vis-a-vis native language.

We were perhaps one of the first institutions (2) to have invested faith in both graduates and diploma holders in equal measure. Motives differ but the foresight resulted in an inflow of raw indigenous native talent from humble beginnings and an earthliness that reset all sophistication of IT glamour. An interesting fall out of less exposure has not only triggered trepidation and aversion to risk-taking in career but also kindled a genuine gratitude for the opportunities given to redefine ones’ lives and their dependent families. Many have come to value this job, their first perhaps, as, not just another job. These are subtle undercurrents that drive commitment and appreciation.

But the subtlest of all distinctions (3) has been a favorite find. We 'cherry-pick' our fellow brethren. The majority that makes it to this institution, come in through campus. The recruitment apparatus and educational institutions have remained the same for the past 20 years. The interview panels have remained the same for the last 20 years. I have perhaps, myself, recruited over 200 into this community. Now, think about what really happens when hand-picking is done. However objective one hopes and strives to be, one tends to pick the ‘Ones’ one likes or impresses or identifies with. In other words, you pick 'alikes'; minds that think alike, where aspirations, feelings and above all, values, resonate. And imagine, this has been happening surreptitiously for the last 20 years. Isn't that genes work to pass on traits and identity? Unknowingly, we have been building a perfect pedigree.

Thus, we have come to understand, why we stick, why we love ourselves and our brethren. Of course, there is the inertia to blame but it’s the same everywhere. Better pay, better opportunities do exist but we have grown up among our peers and elders for so long. People whom we respect and appreciate for being around for us for so long. For whatever unknown reasons the subconscious hide, 'institutionalized' would be too heartless a conclusion to make. Probably, it is this simple informal family feeling that generates a commitment and affinity towards a greater existence and meaning. After all, a software engineer is a social being too.

There you have it. (1) Mallus....(2) Down-to-earth Mallus (it gets worse)…(3) Hand-picked down-to-earth Mallus....That’s the closest you get to, in achieving resonance. The only failure, has been the lack of conscious effort to recognize, nurture and cherish it.

That's the invisible DNA of this great institution. We live in interesting times, though. To borrow Dickens…It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…

Friday, June 15, 2012

Tree of Life

There is ‘this’ mango tree by the bank of small river near my native town. Every summer I go, there would be nothing much to waste your time elsewhere and so I would stroll around the river bank each evening, sometimes, mornings too. There are many more mango trees by the river bank, something like a mangrove but for no apparent reason, ‘this’ one had caught my fascination. Perhaps there was something beautiful about it or maybe it was just because it was on the side by which I walked …it could even have been the little rock that offered a resting spot from where the tree made quite an impression with those arms spread out, reaching to the sky...every summer I was particularly taken in by its bountifulness. As a project manager, I would even amuse myself...what would the % of growth YoY in its yield, its productivity...random thoughts...but last season, I was in for a surprise.

After a normal spring in full bloom, there were just four small mangoes to be spotted. Four mangoes! Would you believe it?! is easy to cite the vagaries of nature or weather playing foul etc…but from a impressive showing YoY (say, in the excess of 200), I could just manage to spot only four...what made me wonder still, was, how these four alone could have made it…what possible reason?!...while the other 196 just didn’t happen…Surprisingly, the other trees seem to have put on a better show...I still couldn’t figure out how the four stuck, there wasn’t a even pattern to it...Two of the mangoes were in fact shielded from view but the other two were bare!...While two were low lying, the other two quite high and inaccessible.

As days went by, my curiosity grew...I began to watch over ‘my’ four mangoes...I even named them. Amrut, Butter, Minnu and Chottu. I reckoned the lowest and bare one (Chottu) to be the first to fall prey...I even resisted a temptation to eat it green (with salt & chilly)...Yet, it was the shielded one on top (Amrut) that the ants spotted…they build their camp around it...Again,I couldn’t get it. Butter (the other shielded one on top) was spared by the ant community for reasons only the ants knew...Butter was on the right next branch...very much accessible but spared by the community... Well, as the mangoes grew bigger, I became tense...I was not sure whether I should start protecting them…wrap them up in plastic bags?!...but if I did so, would it attract attention…Is this mango tree owned by someone after fears grew... Then one day, the top-most shielded one(Butter)…the one, I thought, no one would spot easily, caught the fancy of a crow...maybe because it was the first one to ripe but why didn’t it pick Minnu or Chottu?...Bad luck?...I will never know.

Another week and the one the ants worked on my poor Amrut and it fell...poisoned?....He had hardly ripened even...only Minnu and the low-hanging Chottu were left now... A few days later, an early morn, I was doing my regular rounds, when I spotted some children playing hide and seek...and there was this one kid who had climbed my tree to hide himself...and while he kill time...he idly he plucked my Minnu! and took a bite...dissatisfied, he threw her into the heart could he?!

Now only the Chottu remained...I was determined to save it for Me...savour it when it ripens to the fullest and as a gratitude, grow its seed…so I got it wrapped up in a protective plastic cover and let it be...every alternate day I would unwrap and check...until one day I decided , the time have come…plucked it, took it home and covered it in a basket so that it turns orange...and it did...after a sumptuous lunch, as a natural dessert, I sliced Chottu open...betrayed by worms...not a single slice.

First, reflect on these...

(*) What do you make of this story?...Is there a moral somewhere?...Or should it always have to be some sentimental family saga about some mother and her children to have a ‘moral’?

(*) Or let’s take each instance and dissect...why were there only four mangoes this season?...Why did each perish so differently?

(*) Oh! why was ‘God’ unkind to all ‘my’ four mangoes? Why was ‘God’ unkind to the Mother Tree? or better still, from my own perspective...why was God not kind to Me (my Chottu...the one I thought I protected and owned...turned out to be rotten)?

(*) Or this just ‘much ado about nothing'...something that happens every odd summer? maybe, the neighbouring ugly tree last year had only two mangoes but I never noticed.

(*) In fact, what makes you even think that you can come up with an answer to any of the countless possibilities I can conjure up?

Now, reflect again and at another level perhaps...

(*) Are these ‘events’, that I just laid out, one by one... 'Events’ that seems continuous, as a story…Were they actually continuous or were they in fact just 'random'?

(*) Is there really something called ‘Causality’ between these individual Events? (i.e. One that causes another. One event, that is the ‘reason’ for another)

(*) Or does it make it any easier on you to blame it on a greater reality...‘Divine intervention'...‘God’ or whatever?

Or...Is there really something called 'Life'...let alone its significance...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

so what is Onam?

An interesting question posted in a personality contest at my firm…explain the legend of Onam and its purpose. Something you would expect every mallu to answer convincingly. Maybe the situation overwhelmed the contestants. Sitting out there my mind wandered and what struck me as odd was the legend itself. A sad and noble tale where the heavens played foul.

Here is this good king who gets taught a lesson, by Vishnu himself. One expects Vishnu to crack some sense into Lord Indra and his lot and ask them to clean up their act. Instead, Uncle Vishnu decides to entertain Indra(!) and decides to punish our poor Mahabali…comes down camouflaged as a poor Brahmin and asks for a some real estate…even when Mahabali realizes the trap set, all he asks is just an annual trip to be with his people…I tell you, the legend never made sense…

So what are we celebrating then? I believe we are not celebrating a giant personality’s (if ever there was one!) nobility or sacrifice but rather an ideal. An ‘ideal governance’ when things were just perfect…a time when things were considered the best…there are some important ‘take-aways’ in this story. One, a suggestion that, probably, there is no political system that can better a benevolent autocracy. When you have a perfect political system, what you essentially achieve is ‘heaven’ right here on earth. Two, and more importantly, heaven is not something elusive but one, that can be recreated by an human being with the right conduct.

Heaven was created in Kerala. My home state. And perhaps, that explains the label ‘God’s own country’ too.. No wonder, Indra and the devas got really pissed at the idea of losing their differentiation. Maybe the roots to communism and socialistic leanings go back to the times of Mahabali I guess.

The contestants are asked again…how do we celebrate Onam?
Again a voidness…a guilt. All we know these days is watch the latest flicks or buy some crazy discounted gadgets… Senseless consumerism. That’s how we have come to celebrate anything. With the latest malls and exclusive outlets, there is no more thrill in an Onakodi…you get better bargains during clearance sales…I was wondering how in old days, people celebrated their Onam. Perhaps, walked a mile to see a Kathakali Aattam or some Onakali. Today, a mallu would rather be glued to a IPL or teleported to some euro-soccer setting, thanks to globalisation. We have lost as much as we have gained from globalisation. With the visual media onslaught@home, nothing thrills you any more…any day can be made Onam…perhaps Onam makes a difference only to the poor these days.

And Time, the last casualty. Onam in my corporate world is just a two-day affair…no different from a weekend...but should it be just another festive season?…I believe it should have been at least a week, where, the entire system switches off to celebrate an ideal. But I guess, being connected to the rest of the world, one cannot shut shop and celebrate in isolation.

anyway, the guilt lingers…I celebrated Onam with a new 42’ inch LCD jumbo.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Life less Dignified

I have often wondered, why I cannot bring myself to settle in an advanced place like US or Europe or Japan. They all stand out in their beauty and the quality of living. Quality of Living. Time well spent. Time, spent on enjoying life. A friend puts it best. ‘Da, you can just plan to go on a trip right now. Grab a bus or flight to Niagara. No, drive all the way there. Or, I could just go out running the whole day Or Trekking. The options are endless….’ . I must agree. Back home, such a idea cannot be presented. Too many loose ends to tie up. Besides, with no social security, you are caught up in an endless whirlpool. To save. Save for a house, for children’s education, for their marriage and possibly retirement, if you happen to be around, that long. A cruise or a summer house is beyond our middle-class. Yet, if you were to switch a few time zones, the pressure to save vanishes. Social Security, public healthcare, public education and some of the finest infrastructure and support systems one can think of. Well, forget all the man-made wonders. Just take a look around and take in the natural beauty of the place and the wonderful change of seasons…..honestly, there isn’t a thing worthwhile back home, I can uphold in defense, with pride.

And so… on an ICE (bullet train) speeding through Switzerland, conversing with a friend of mine,when this question started to trouble me again. I remember, often telling my friends I would much rather prefer roaming the streets of Trivandrum to any other place on earth. Was that a lie? I look outside and I see the greenery of Switzerland. Hmmm...beyond words. So I confronted myself again. What is it that makes me wanna run back all the time? Surely one cannot to be blind to all this beauty you see around. It can’t be the food either; you get almost everything here. Globalization, they say. Family ties? They can be shipped. And after marriage, parents or siblings do not matter anyway. The argumentative Indian streak (in me) mulled over the clichéd excuses one by one. I was searching for a more personal reason. The real reason.

My lucky day…Things seem to fall in order today and the connections emerge. I have often witnessed this miracle before, you would be having no idea, and then suddenly, as you start to explain it to someone ….the problem and the possible reasons ….even as you speak, it dawns on you…it connects…and you speak on, as if you knew all along…. you would hearing your thoughts along with your listener for the first time...but no one knows… That’s subliminal. Like the subconscious (mind) just stepped in.

I argue on with my friend...No, the issue with me has never been the fairytale beauty I see outside. Nor the standard of living nor the food, not even leaving parents. You can either come to terms with all that or fix them. But, I just realize, it is the very ‘whites’ that are sitting right across me. Yes. They are my problem. (Not surprisingly, we are the only browns in the setting (i.e. compartment) too.)

The whites sitting across…..they sit tight, occasionally steal a fleeting glance. Steely eyes. Managed smiles…..Or maybe my perception is all skewed. No matter what they do, take notice or ignore, I detect only prejudice. An inferiority complex? Maybe. But I doubt. For, look at their children. They have got a pretty straightforward expression on their face. They invariably stare or giggle at you. That’s easy to understand. I fascinate them or I appear threatening. But I am ok with that. It is the put-on politeness or condescending approach of an adult that sinks my spirits. Like, making way for you. Sometimes it is both funny and sad to sit and watch the seat next to you being taken the last. Some would rather stand than sit next to you. Actually, it may not be a conscious thing even. Just a harmless reflex to a stranger or an alien. Something from the past. But it makes you feel odd and unwelcome.

Well, it all comes gushing out when you inadvertently screw up things. Recently on a flight to Munich, I was trying to put my cabin bag on the overhead compartment. There wasn’t much space there and I kind of forced it in. A young lady, seated in the row ahead spoke something firmly in german and then shaking her head, got up and pulled out my bag to get her jacket and put it back. Seeing my dumb look, she switched to English and said ‘That jacket shouldn’t get wrinkled, you know’. As if to a kid. I had already got up, offering to help, fumbling words in embarrassment. Though you know your English, it doesn’t help. Later, I watch others take the time to put the luggage carefully, while others waited in the aisle. I may have rushed it but I didn’t want to keep others waiting. I dunno. Throughout the flight I felt guilty and stupid. The whole scene played back and forth in my mind. You know, I might even have more Air Miles to my credit than her… Whatever.It hurts.

I love Europe but it’s the people. Not everyone. I have never found a pattern. Sometimes it is the older people who appear genuine. Sometimes it is the younger educated ones who do not see the color. You encounter it more often in the suburbs than downtowns. Is it an alien reflex, I wonder. But back home, I know we are generally perceived to be friendly and warm towards any foreigner. So it can’t just be the alien factor. Is it then the perception of white being ‘better’?

After defeating a western boxer, ‘Wing Chun’ Master Yip Man echoes my anguish and enlightens the crowd “By fighting this match, I’m not trying to prove Chinese martial arts are better than Western boxing. What I really wanted to say is that, though people have different statuses in life, everybody’s dignity is the same. One man’s integrity is not worth more than another’s. I hope from this moment on, we can start to respect each other” .Courtesy: ‘Ip Man 2 (2010)’

But alas, how can mutual respect come about. Either, ‘the white’ sitting across, needs to have time and patience to know me, up close. Or, he needs to be educated, emotionally intelligent. Possess such refined sensibilities to see greater truths. Well, such gifts are so rare to come by. As to the former (time and patience), it is virtually impossible. Most of our acquaintances in public places are fleeting and short lived. I am absolutely positive a closer interaction with me would naturally dissolve the initial bias, they have of me. I say this confidently because, the people whom I have interacted with, closely; like the Swedish family who rent out their rooms for me and my colleagues at our Swedish office; they all respect and like me for the person I am.

It’s funny that, some others are gifted with so much self-respect, that they can stand up to any snub. They can change an entire perception with a single remark. For instance, a US settled uncle of mine, boasts, he once retorted to a redneck “The only difference is that you came by the first boat”. But then,that’s America. The land of Freedom and Liberty. Besides, I don’t have his guts.

Former American President, John Quincy Adams, arguing against slavery, said, “…the natural state of mankind is freedom. The proof is the length to which a man …will go to regain it, once taken. He will break loose his chains…decimate his enemies…will try and try and try, against all odds, against all prejudices….to get home.” Courtesy: ‘Amistad (1997)’

Yes. Home. That’s why, I wanna go back. My land of Squalor. Everything pales in comparison. Much rather wander the streets of Trivandrum, on borrowed thoughts “Where the mind is without fear and the head held high…”

Feeling Free and Dignified.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

As it is in Heaven

Daniel Dareus, an internationally successful conductor returns to his home village. Comes across an amateur village choir and tries to help them realize something special. It has been his childhood dream to create music to warm a person’s heart. Everyone falls is in love with the celebrity stranger. As the plot progresses, we see a slice of the whole community, the infightings, misgivings, the simplicity and warmth. He is perceived to be special (or just different) that no one really compares themselves to him. The peer envy just ebbs away. This invokes a confession, a frankness and a reflection in everyone as they interact with him.

When I return to India eventually and look back, the small heaven at Alby would probably stand out amidst my wonderful experiences in Europe. I am no Darius but I think the feeling cannot be different. During the initial weeks in Sweden, a bunch of strangers(till then) helped me out. They put me up at their place. Fed me. Did everything to make me feel at home. Voluntarily. Even after I found my own place to settle down, they continued to invite me to spend time with them. A genuineness and warmth that cannot be refused. Those Friday night-outs couched on a sofa have been pure fun. They are from a different professional background(technicians); most of them older than me with grown up kids. There is a twist , though. They seldom talk to each other. The same issues you expect in any peer group setting. Each of them have tales of suspicion to narrate about another. Yet, as the outsider, I see the goodness in each. So I become their Santa, showing up on Fridays with a pizza or something, to switch on the heaven-mode. And everyone forget their prejudices and talk. Well, it is more like talking through me. The vodka helps too.

I recognize and smile at the root cause. One of them got promoted to lead (largely out of convenience) and peers have issues with that. To be in charge, no matter how cautious you are, you might still get consumed by it. The great Ryszard Kapuscinski once wrote “and the essence of authority is that it must manifest its power”. Euphemistically termed ‘politics’, what ensues is the regular mix of misunderstandings and conflict of interests. And to an outsider, it all appears too silly and solvable. But their straightforwardness and rustic take on things do not fail poke my ‘sophisticated’ sensibilities. Ok. I got an additional degree but goodness was never a part of education. It dawns on me that our capacity for goodness can be consumed by a focus on education and career.

For them, I am godsend. A total surprise. Because by designation, I could very well have been their boss. But then, I come through as the nice guy next door. Down to earth. So much so that they lovably ‘order’ me to help with the household chores. Quite amusing to have ‘ordered’ a manager in their life, they claim. But it’s all fun and done in good spirits. They are excellent cooks. Real pros, that you are only happy to play second fiddle chopping onions. On the other hand, I stun them with my discourses in strategy or computer software. They seek advice in English and I brag about like someone who has seen it all. An Imposter maybe but then, my willingness to be the underdog and learn from these veteran chefs (Chilly Chicken for Dummies! ). Everything starts with mutual respect.

One guy talks about his bro who makes things happen in the local Kochi market; like, you can approach this fellow to get things done. Just like that. He has a reputation, people take his word, he can roll money, run errands, all without holding a big job or credit on himself…how does such things happen….I listen in wonderment. Another talks about his ancestry, somewhere in Trichur where an entire community are his his grandpa had twenty children and everyone in the street are related….Wonderful stories…I listen…a couple of vodka more, one of them grabs my hand and confesses I am godsend. It’s funny because I seem to understand perfectly what he means. He sees in me a large heart and no ego. But does he realize he has a larger one to see goodness in an impostor. Maybe it is the vodka after all… I only know that I feel genuinely happy, grateful and special in their company.

And I know I am not different. Back home, I am guilty of the same politics, misunderstanding, ego clashes, or plain and simple envy. Yet, when you are not a peer, on a temporary sojourn, with no real agenda you can afford to be nice. When there is no agenda, the possibilities are endless. Believe me, the TGIF evenings have been boisterous. Raucous. Freewheeling. Festive with wonderful cooking, watching old mallu flicks in the background and plain braggadocio. Oh! I forgot the vodka again.

So think about this. Why do we need others to first make you feel special , treat you as special, to actually become special? Or, is it the other way around. Just deciding to be special gets infectious enough. I dunno which of us ignited this goodness. Maybe goodness can be created. Just like that. But I have feeling that heavens can be created through selfless acts.

the only worry though, is that in the film (‘As it is in Heaven’) Daniel Dareus ends up dying after having accomplished his dream of warming another person’s heart.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Butterflies of a Transport System

Storstockholms Lokaltrafik (SL). Sweden’s famed Public Transport Network. The ‘Fasta Centrum’ #165 shuttle is about to push off the bus bay at its scheduled time. 09:11. The door closes as the driver turns to drive away. An elderly man, hurries across, knocks on the door to catch his attention. I do not see the driver but gather from the old man’s expression, that, he was probably turned down. He would need to wait another 20 minutes to get to wherever he was going. However, he does not protest as he walks back to the bench.

Amused, a chain of thoughts is triggered…
In my part of the world, this would not have happened. Well, three other things could have happened. One, there is a very good possibility that the driver is sympathetic enough to stop and let the old man in. Or (two) in every probability, some agitated passenger in the bus would have yelled ‘You! stop the bus,can’t you see someone is out there’. And three, it can also happen, that the bus accelerates while the old man curses the driver and transport system of the state.

Despite the insignificance of the social interaction played out before my eyes, the mind races to evaluate the differences, causes and excuses. Which is better? Who was more ‘right’? What are the limits of compassion? At what cost?

Surely, the Swedish approach has been purely, a rational decision. There is every reason for time to be kept. Punctuality is largely a derivative of discipline. Wasting, even a few seconds on a late comer would make a fool of all those who arrived on time and would much rather appreciate starting on time. Stretching further, if you were to let one in, another might show up as well and then, that presents another moral dilemma for our driver (Should I take him too, now that I have allowed one already?). I guess, he lost it the moment he decided to stay beyond 9.11…

Logical, as all these claims may be, they would still infuriate an Indian sensibility. The first emotion that goes through our mind is outright sympathy for the late comer. Tomorrow it could be you, desperately trying to get somewhere. Of course, one could argue that one should have planned, came in advance or found other alternatives…Yet, an Indian mind would allow a leeway ‘surely everything isn’t within your control’. What if the man wasn’t being sloppy after all. What if, something unexpected happened and he just could not make it… But an empathy for the late comer (and mind you, someone is always late) invariably leads to an unreliable system. What can be planned on a transport system that stops to ‘collect’ all people at a bus stop, no matter what.

Yet, I cannot absolve the Indian approach as totally altruistic. Besides sympathy, we have our historic hangovers. We still believe the ‘government’ (or anything ‘public’) is ‘for’ the people and ‘by’ the people but not ‘of’ the people. A feeling, the state is always against the ‘people’. So I should concede my perverse satisfaction when someone shouts at the driver to stop the bus. A transport system that is not ‘for’ the people (i.e. does not wait and collect) defeats the whole purpose of transport. So goes my rustic ‘socialistic’ leanings. Then of course, the economics of it all. With so few resources and so many of us, is punctuality really affordable?
Thoughts continue to dissect...
Just imagine, the conscience or the guilt played out on the poor driver’s mind. A Swedish driver justifies a ‘cold’ rational logic with the comforting thought, the next bus would come at 9.31, as he manages to look away; while, his Indian counterpart cannot guarantee anything in his system, the sense of guilt weighing more and more as he defects…take things into his hand?

And I am amazed. How perfection leaves no room for compassion. How, they are mutually exclusive. Either be cold, rational and be perfect. Or be compassionate and break rules. We cannot have both. And thus,(it cannot get more precarious than this) if the bus driver chooses to leave at 9.12, there you have it. A hopeless and unreliable transport system. It was never obvious until today…my mind races on… to the ‘The Big Fights’ , the endless primetime debates on hot issues. Well,‘An Appalling Public Transport System’ would make a worthy topic… but will they ever understand the Butterfly Effects?

Maybe there are no satisfactory answers to social conundrums. You always excuse yourself ‘comparing apples with oranges’. But guess what? There are only apples and oranges in this world. There are, of course, definite reasons as to why such distinct approaches exist or rather evolve. One often ends up chasing historical and economical roots to a society’s sensibilities, that, to sit in judgment of it would be nothing but silly. But if you can stop explaining or being judgmental, you could perhaps let go the prejudices and perceive the connection in everything. How a philosophy of an approach takes shape, how an individual mind or that of a society acts and reacts to a situation. The situation itself, being a cause. In short, the reciprocity of the multitude of causes and effects. You begin to suspect how it is all connected, how the macro patterns evolve from the micro causes of everyday life and still, manifest in them every moment.

Västberga gårdsväg!...the automated announcement breaks my thoughts….My Stop! I smile as I gather my stuff and get off the #165.

Is this what they call a ‘culture shock’? Butterflies in the stomach?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Schopenhauer would be disappointed

Chopped off a branch obstructing my way upstairs to terrace the other day. This week, another one has sprouted in its place. Usually I feel frustrated at the menace but on this occasion, after a moment’s thought, I found myself admiring it. There was something respectful about this silent resilience. I know, if I continue to cut, they would still try to grow back. This ‘will’ or stubbornness to survive is so straightforward and powerful. Till its last breath, a plant would just try to do what is expected of it. Grow and further its existence. Simple. I wonder whether we humans would have given up against such odds. This brings me to the question of the will to survive and the will to procreate.

Schopenhauer fundamental premise was that human beings were only motivated by a desire or will to survive. Well, though the will to survive is still strong in most of us, I believe, the will to procreate is waning in commensuration with advancement in our modern lifestyle. And, being busy and short-sighted, the connection between the two (survival and procreation) is no longer obvious. Everything is so positioned, with you at the centre of the universe, feeding this great ego inside you (the ‘I’ factor) that you no longer see the simple purpose to life. And if you wonder whether we can really be so self centered and short sighted in life, explain why we are still heating up earth with rampant industrialization (Carbon credits? My foot!). Are we really worried about generations to come?

Talking about procreation, Mother Nature has done everything within its capacity to make Sex (that traps us to procreate), so enchanting an experience, to make a very strong case for it. From the smallest amoeba, the will to seek ‘immortality’ through procreation has been primal. Yet, with the power of cognition or knowledge, another demon was created. The I or The Ego. It gave rise to this “world-spins-around-me” perception (we Indians call this ‘Maya’). Knowledge and education detached us further from our bearings. And in the process, the ‘will to survive’ superficially survived while Nature seems to have hit back killing the ‘will to procreate’. It is much like an AI robot turning rogue suddenly. Like a perversion taking root triggering it to work against its basic purpose or creator. All species (except modern man) may not be aware that the desire to survive is no different from the desire to procreate. We are perhaps the only idiots who can be comprehend the connection but yet deceive ourselves to think low of procreation.

Look at the sophistications we have achieved. Postponing marriage into late 30s (till it is ‘time’); scheduling children even further (till we are really ‘committed’). Even toy with the idea of adoption. Well, I am not advocating early marriage or mindless procreation but aren’t we taking things a little too far. With more specializations to master and corporate ladders to climb, couples naturally push procreation late into life. Interestingly, they reads tons of books/magazines; undergo counseling to prep themselves for the ‘greatest task’. Once an offspring is ‘delivered’, many no longer have the time to spend with it. The mad rush to secure a future for it would have begun. So naturally, one is put off by the fear and enormity of responsibilities that ensue, leaving the educated and socially well-placed to consider adoption or better, remain childless (Interestingly, the uneducated and socially deprived have other reasons not to be this dumb).

If you believe my observations are unfounded, let me assure you, it already happening. Look at Japan for instance, where, a whole generation has lost the desire to procreate. What they have achieved in the bargain is remarkable. So little resources, so small a nation, so few people, reduced to a dust in WWII, yet, rose to be the second largest economy. And the price they paid for being so workaholic? Well, they have build themselves a unsustainable model, an aging population inching towards extinction. The younger generation is equally caught up in the same illusion.

Again, I am not for procreating mindlessly like birds but, to lose track of a basic purpose of existence seems appalling. All ‘advanced’ societies seems to have put a heavy burden on the individual to succeed in career and life that he fails to understand what he is living for. At the root of all the misplaced priorities, lies the supreme ‘I’ and my life.

I was reminded of a touching scene in 2012. When all is lost for the Indian scientist Satnam, with a huge tidal wave engulfing…what does he do? He looks at his son’s face and leans forward to hold him. Embracing death in the best possible manner. If we all stop to think for a moment…suppose, this is the last moment in your life…what would be the most enriching way to spend it? Hold your little one as close as possible to your bosom and kiss it. Isn’t it everything?

Now, Think about a tree. It’s entire life. All the events in its life. Leaves and branches sprouting. Flowers blooming. Fruits ripening. Everything is for one purpose. To seek eternity through its children.

And when did we take our eyes off from all this magic around us?

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Career's Collateral Damage

I know it’s bad timing, for, this one is not going to go down well with my old buddies. But it is about time I wrote this piece anyway, at least, to make myself believe that the choices I made were not excuses made in good faith. The trigger though, has been a few flicks I saw recently. Though, not the central theme in ‘Gran Torino(2008)’, old age, especially without one’s spouse where, children start to sell you old age home, was too much of a bother to be wished away ’It’s complicated(2009)’ also shows Meryl Streep (a divorcee) returning home, often, lonely while her children want to get away to do their bit, again, never the ‘complicated’ part in the movie but an underlying reality that, one must at some point in time, come to terms with. And, when it does, should one be stoic about it?

So, do you want to die alone or worse, amidst strangers?
It’s appalling how it often come to this.

How did we solve the ‘old age conundrum’ in the past?
In ancient India, the Hindu approach to Life was far ahead of its times. In latter half of one’s Life (Life comprised of four stages: Brahmacharya or the Celibate/Student, Grihasta ashrama or the House holder, Vanaprashata Ashrama the Hermit in semi retirement, Sannyasa Ashrama or Fully retired), a man was expected to ‘let go’ his attachments and step into a life of contemplation. Though, one is not sure whether everyone was willing to bite the bullet, one needs to appreciate the foresight that went into such holistic thinking. But that was a millennium ago. There are no forests anymore(well, in case, if you were looking for an excuse to stay home).

But even, till a few decades back, I guess, this was addressed reasonably well in our society. Before ‘nuclear’ families started sprouting up everywhere, the ‘Joint Family’ (or(HUF) Hindu’s Undivided Family) offered a model for many generations to stick it out together, with all socio-economic matters solved in favour of the whole family. Old age was not only solved; in fact, wisdom ruled. Why that failed would be a digression at this point.(another post, perhaps).

Anyway. When the issue of ‘the Old’ came up, some even had the guts to look the other way (to justify an unpleasant childhood (“Oh, he was never there for me”) while most of us looked at the hard choices before us; our career (a promotion, a tenure, the greenest of all the cards), our children’s future, oh guess what, parents figured last. Let’s accept it, after we branched out to a small unit of our own (read only as wife and children), parents no longer figured in it.

Oh, I am sure, many of us offered; something they declined politely too (“Oh, we feel like fish out of water here”). In fact, many of them honestly tried to adapt; but then, it was beyond them to get excited about iPod or the Alps. More of an identity crisis, I guess. Sometimes you get so institutionalized …the newspapers, TV serials, by lanes and market place, familiar faces, shops… the fish just wanted to get back to the backwaters of Kerala. And so there you are, son, feeling helpless and lost at the ‘flow’ of Life. But few fail to catch the amazement at how priorities have changed for us. For now, it has become ‘bearable’ to leave behind, some people who meant everything, once. And, that to me, is, Life’s great mystery.

No parents would request their children to sacrifice a career for them. They are just too proud; just love you so much, to stand in your way. Perhaps, they see it as a negation of their whole life to hold you back from building on what they strived to achieve. Yet, to let them just wither away, on an excuse ("But they said it was just fine, ok?")

I happened to catch Satyan Anthikad share some of his experiences meeting the old (as a promo to ‘Manasinakkare’ film). There was so much sadness around to make out what was right. Maybe, many of you might caught this one (I am sure), when you are willing to spare an extra minute to chat with some old relative, they just brighten up, wanting to go on and on…. (The same ‘yearn’ to feel important, beautifully captured in ’12 Angry Men(1957)’ where an old man lies as a witness just to be listened to. To feel important.)

I refrain from concluding that one should sacrifice career for family. My intent was rather to seek why it is a nagging issue for most of us. In my opinion, the reason for this internal strife can only be that, it was never our (forefathers’) way or the Indian way to begin with. ‘Career-orientation or focus’ is largely a western ‘carrot’ for an occidental mind to find hardly gratifying. Besides, at the root of it all lies the western education we have had. Taught to seek and repose faith on what is tangible and logical. A Career.

So maybe, there is no cruelty here. This is just the nature of life. For, one cannot have everything in life. Choices have to be made. Collateral damage is inevitable. Forward is our great password today. But, one would do well to realize, one only gets what one gives. And, it is very much possible that you unconsciously teach your children to give, only, what you gave your parents.

I hope you have thought through, else, maybe it’s about time you started considering the possibility of dying alone.