Life Ordinary

I won’t be the judge of that!

A few days ago, S wrote to me that she was going through my old posts and was delighted to find lower caps for ‘i’ , font change for each blog and heavy and careless use of ellipses after every three sentences. The background is that in my professional life I am a stickler for error-free content. Even until a few months ago, I’d have been irritated at myself for this and despite the painful process, would have gone ahead and corrected each post! In fact, as I told her, I had even considered this once. I occasionally refer to my own posts when I’m writing new ones and once, sometime last year, I happened to read one from 2008, with all of the things that S mentioned and more! That’s probably one of the first times that I implemented something I’d been wanting to for quite a while – stop being judgmental and to be comfortable with myself – past and present.

There’s a back story to that as well. My judgmental nature had been on an ascendant for quite a while, and coupled with a temper and wit/sarcasm, I realised that I was hurting people. As is my wont, I analysed a bit and figured that at the base of it was the fact that I was extremely unforgiving of myself. Since I drove myself to those levels, I took a higher ground and berated others when they didn’t live by those standards, across various life situations. I also understood that the work had to begin internally before I could manifest it to/on others. It wasn’t easy to forgive myself in the beginning, but I got the hang of it gradually.

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(The Kite Runner)

This was, and continues to be, a bit tricky. How does one maintain objectivity when being kind on oneself? When does it slide into laziness? The way I deal with it is to try and understand the relative importance of an incident in the larger scheme of things. Carrying it forward to other people was a much easier task, especially when I paused for a moment and made myself understand that behind every behaviour there is a story. The challenge here is to make sure others don’t take advantage of the new found benevolence! If you’ve gotten thus far, you’d be able to handle it.

During a recent offsite, my current boss said I was one of the most unflappable people he knew. Huge compliment, and one I totally cherished, not only because of my history in this context and therefore my progress, but also because I actually think he is one of the most composed people I’ve come across! This also allows me to bring up a related subject – praising others. One of the side effects of being harsh on myself was that I became stingy with praise. I think it was Surekha who first pointed this out to me. In Em and the Big Hoom, I saw some lovely words, and have tried to live by them.

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Anything else makes you less.” That’s probably a judgment right there, but we’ll let it pass. These days, I try to praise – not for the sake of it, but by being a little more open to it. I also try not to judge. Even if I do, I keep it to myself, and make it as transient as possible. In the era of Twitter, this does become quite challenging! It is still a work in progress, and most likely will remain that way always, but I like to think that I have gained some ground. The mantra these days is

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until next time, judge dread!

The world we create

A while ago, I had written about the narratives of our lives, a look at various narratives across time – from religions and nations to popular culture and brands to the internet – that have (arguably) tried to fulfill our sense of belonging. All the narratives I had considered were external in nature, though they might be dictated by our choices and preferences.

An excellent comment on the post by The Lit Room made me consider ‘the narrative of individual imagination’. As I answered, it is probably the most important one, as it takes all sorts of external stimuli, and converts it into a unique stream of consciousness. Just when I began thinking of writing a follow up post by including that aspect, I was reintroduced, thanks to Devdutt Pattanaik’s Sita, to the concept of ‘aham brahmasmi‘ – “every human creates his own imagined version of the world, and of himself. Every human is therefore Brahma, creator of his own aham“. I think it is impossible to crack everything that goes into the making of one’s own consciousness, which is probably what led to

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(image via)

But there are at least a couple of perspectives that the book provides in terms of how one can create an ideal ‘world’ for oneself. It says, “stay true to the idea of dharma. Be the best you can be, in the worst of circumstances, even when no one is watching.” I thought a bit about what actually drives our actions, and realised that at the bottom of it is fear. (debatable) Not just one fear, but many, many fears driven by our contexts – some we acknowledge, some we don’t. George Lucas probably figured it out earlier, (see) though we might travel paths different from what Yoda has suggested. The book also states that – Fear is a constant, and faith is a choice. Fear comes from karma, from faith arises dharma. Faith in what, was the next thing I pondered over. In oneself, and a moral code that one adheres to? Or a higher power/cosmic law that governs all that happens? Or is it just a mechanical process with the fittest surviving? There are more options as well, probably, but I like to go with the first, because in the world that I create, my actions can ensure I do not have to fear.

Meanwhile, also from the book – Shiva chooses the path of asceticism and self control to control the aham, and the world it creates. Vishnu chose to live amidst materialism and yet find a way to break free – a middle path. (now I can see why Buddha is assumed to be a form of Vishnu) I think there are several degrees to choose from, and there lies the challenge. I also realise that it if each of us are creating our own worlds, we cannot really answer the questions of the world at large – a universal answer – because it is an aggregate of each of our worlds, which are different from each other and have unique rules. We can only find the answers to our own world, and through our individual paths, find our own version of the answer to the purpose of life.

until next time, muddled path

A measure of helplessness

A while back, I’d seen a Malayalam movie titled Pigman. Not really a typical movie by any standards, and that explains the poor performance at the box office. It is the story of a young man whose life pretty much becomes an abyss. (spoiler) The movie starts with him pursuing a doctorate in linguistics but failing to get it because of his research guide, who is miffed at him rejecting her advances. He sees no point in continuing and thanks to his family’s dire financial circumstances, is forced to take a job. He gets a clerical job at a pig farm courtesy a friend. A series of altercations with the corrupt management gets him demoted to the lowest job in the system – that of a pigman. He continues his protestations and the movie ends with him losing his mental faculties after being given electric shocks.

It is a depressing story, and one can really feel his helplessness as his life spirals downwards degree by degree. In fact, the entire theme of the movie is failures in life, and it is as though, the intent is to drive home the point that some lives are meant to be lived in a continued state of helplessness.

I think we have all felt helpless at some points in time, in varying degrees. Helpless in traffic (probably tactical helplessness, for the lack of a better word) at one end to probably the other extreme of watching a loved one die and not being able to do anything to prevent it or alleviate the suffering. I couldn’t help but compare it against what I’d call (again for the lack of a better word) chronic helplessness -a life consistently going down in quality (defined in this context as standard of living) – like the life of Pigman’s protagonist. In turn, I also couldn’t help but compare this to someone who has never had a decent standard of life. I wondered whether, among the last two, the last was better – if one hadn’t really experienced a higher standard of living, one wouldn’t know what one was missing, and therefore the suffering would be lesser than someone who had experienced it earlier, but could no longer do so because of circumstances.

And that is the really enigmatic thing about this business of living – there is no objective measure of mental anguish. If there were, probably we’d be better at helping those less fortunate than us. That would at least be a step up from feeling helpless at the injustice of it all. Help more, to feel less helpless. Sounds like a plan?

until next time,

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The path to immortality

I’d written earlier on how brands could use an individual’s data (the personal API) to fit themselves into his/her narrative and had used Nike as an example.  But this data could also be used by fitness and health companies to discover ‘fault lines’, gradually delay wear and tear, and one day, totally prevent a machine shutdown. This video - A Day in the life of Tim Ferriss (watch for a minute from 3:25) – gave me an idea of how we might be moving faster in that direction because of  data collection.

Back in 2011, in ‘God in the details‘, I’d opined that over a period of time, when our data capture capabilities were evolved enough, and we had a lot of data on people on a lot of their behaviour, consumption etc, we would potentially be able to answer the most profound questions about our existence, purpose etc, and unlock further dimensions. I was extremely happy to read the same thought in this (long, but) amazing read called ‘Navigating Stuckness‘. “I could sit safely at my desk and write computer programs to gather vast amounts of Internet data, which I thought could finally answer timeless questions like “what is love?” and “what is faith?” with precision and clarity.

On one hand, data could help us in our path to immortality, and on the other, it could provide us the answers to fundamental existential questions. I wonder what would happen first, because, as I wrote in PhilosoRapture, I also wonder if those questions would remain relevant once we became immortal.

Meanwhile, the other track to immortality that is rapidly developing is that of the augmented human, where human parts (including the brain) will be replaced by mechanical replicas. We’re only a part of evolution, as this wonderful, humbling video would show, and it is probably only our ego that makes us believe (if we do) that we’re the endpoint. Maybe, there will be a species later, of whom we’d be probably be creators, for whom our questions will seem irrelevant and who will have their own sets of answers to seek.

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(quote via, image via)

So it would seem that whichever way we approach immortality, by the time we get there, chances are, it may not be that significant.

The year we conquer morality, by the way, is 2040, as per Ray Kurzweil. I’ll be 62 then, or maybe not, or maybe it won’t matter, or maybe…  :)

until next time, live long and proper :)

A long way away from home

The Global Soul’ is not my favourite Pico Iyer book (though he is a favourite anyway) mostly because I couldn’t connect to three out of its six chapters. I picked up the book because, in addition to it being a Pico book, it was about a subject that has fascinated me for a while now – the concept of ‘home’. This, in a multicultural world whose corporate citizens are rapidly making sure that ’Everywhere is made up of everywhere else..’ I remember writing about this almost three years ago, in the context of another travel book and my visit to what I still consider home – Cochin. It was evoked by the presence of the same brands that I might see in a mall in Bangalore, the disappearance of familiar landmarks, and the residents referring to new landmarks that I really didn’t know of. It is perhaps unfair to expect that even as I changed, the idea of home would remain a constant. Maybe I will get used to that in a while too.

I had wondered whether, in our pursuit of convenience and familiarity, we might end up creating a homogeneous world. Now I wonder if we might be one of the last generations to live in a truly heterogeneous world, as, in addition to the corporate imperialism, culture also becomes the most exported and imported product, courtesy technological advances – real and virtual. Home is, as the t-shirt goes, where the wifi connects automatically, and I’d be able to recreate it anywhere, with all the props made available to me.

Every year, around this time, there is usually a home visit, and I would be chronicling it, this year there isn’t. Our regular visit targets are missing in action, and going there doesn’t make sense. I wonder if this is how it begins, and a couple of decades later, when I’m traveling, a bout of homesickness would hit me, and I would realise that it wasn’t Cochin I was thinking of. I’ll probably feel sad then, and guilty. But for now, I am closing my eyes, and recreating Cochin in my mind, with no props. I am able to, I can sense the wistfulness as I walk through the streets (without Google) and they haven’t changed. It’s heartening to know that while I have left Cochin, it hasn’t left me.

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until next time, homegrown can be grown?

The currency of relationships

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Some people know me way too well! :)

A few days ago, I received a message that gave a jolt to my perception of how I deal with other people and what they make of it. I had written this post sometime back on taking friends for granted, and while that was in the specific context of friendship, this is an approach I extend to all relationships, be it transactional or emotional. I like to think that I’m fair in my approach and try to give back more than I get. But apparently, at least according to one person, I am not, and am “Mr.Use and Throw”. It hurt because I have always acknowledged the help that I’d received, to that person and others. I have not had an opportunity to repay it in kind, but whenever I have felt that my presence would bring happiness, I have made it a point to be there. I did reply with my perspective on the accusation, but it led me to think of the subject and how our actions are perceived by others.

In this case, for instance, there were possibly expectations from me that I had not known of – not of a monetary kind, I think, but some other kind of help or acknowledgement. (Generalising) We live in an increasingly transactional world, where we are able to quantify all sorts of things and are also able to throw money at issues/problems/situations to resolve them. In scenarios where that is not applicable, we use our judgment to repay a gesture of kindness/affection/love. Over a period of time, I have dealt with the latter by acknowledgment and thanks in word and deed, and by paying it forward. But there is no standard currency in relationships, and my lesson from this experience is to not to take for granted that my approach is the one that works for people at the receiving end. I should spend some time first in understanding expectations, and then meeting them. When the price and currency are not agreed upon at the outset, you will need to keep paying until both parties have agreed that there are no dues.

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until next time, emotional monthly installments

P.S. and a happy Thanksgiving ;)

Guided by fear

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I have this habit of adding a bookmark fold at the bottom of the page when I want to refer to it again. It is quite a task when I have to figure out much later what line in the page I’d originally bookmarked for! These days, Instagram solves it. At some point, I’m sure I can search my feed with a #quote hashtag and retrieve all the ‘bookmarks’ easily. Yay!

“And the Mountains Echoed” had many such bookmarks. (still an unconscious habit despite the Instagram method) But this one has to be my favourite – “..but most people have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really what guides them is what they are afraid of. What they don’t want.” I can easily confess that a large share of my actions is to preclude some dystopian version of my old age. (one) Many a time, this leads me to choose cautious paths over (what I think might be) more emotionally fulfilling ones, and even ones that I think might be leading me to my purpose.

But when I thought about it a bit more, I realised that it can be read positively too – after all I am afraid of being switched off without knowing why I was here, and that’s what makes it an obsession! Also, the ‘afraid-don’t want’ factor often drives me to do things that are out of my comfort zone, so it’s possibly even pushing me towards my purpose, albeit from a different direction. Just a form of reduction? :) It’s probably not a coincidence that my second favourite quote from the book is “When you have lived as long as I have, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same colour

until next time, fear off

Time Vault

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This was my ‘water bottle’ at Myntra, and the victim of many of my colleagues’ jokes, mostly thanks to its size. It is really tiny, and you could finish all the water in it in one gulp. It has been disfigured many a time, courtesy its battles with hot water. But it bears its scars with dignity, even though it wobbles a bit. It also seems to have a fair amount of stature, since at least three of my colleagues asked me if they could take the bottle after I left. I refused, but now that I’m ready to join the new workplace, I don’t know if I should use it anymore. But I don’t want to throw it away either, since it holds a lot of memories and in future, will probably be the only unchanged remnant of some good times. I wish I could store it somewhere, but I’m also trying to get rid of my hoarding habit!

That’s what led me to think of this concept – since we’re in the era of 3D scanning and 3D printing, theoretically it should be possible to construct a 3D scan of the bottle with its basic dimensions, exact contours, texture of material etc and store it. I should then be able to print out an exact replica using a 3D printer. These technologies are not yet mainstream, but I’m wondering if this could be a way of storing memories. We can store images, text, sounds easily now but not smell, taste and touch. This could at least take care of the touch aspect.

At some point in the future, I’m hoping if it’ll be possible to store such treasures as a file and print them out whenever I feel like it. An entire folder full of memories – of different times in my lives, that I can easily bring to life. It would be like a time vault. Vault as a noun -storehouse – and vault as a verb – leaping, in this case across time thanks to ‘physical’ memories. Maybe, in the future, we could live in the past for a day, and come back.

until next time, the future of memories

Live Empty

old tree and new tree stories

(via)

Such is the pace of life now that I can easily identify with the opening paragraph here. As I read on, I completely loved the part about the graveyard being the most valuable land in the world, “because with all of those people are buried unfulfilled dreams, unwritten novels, masterpieces not created, businesses not started, relationships not reconciled.” The rest of the article is about dying empty – to complete every task, thought, action, to leave nothing unspoken, uncreated, unwritten. 

Later, I read on Brain Picking, “Henry Miller on Creative Death“, in which Henry Miller, defining art, says, “Strange as it may seem today to say, the aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware. In this state of god-like awareness one sings; in this realm the world exists as poem. No why or wherefore, no direction, no goal, no striving, no evolving…. This is the sublime, the a-moral state of the artist, he who lives only in the moment, the visionary moment of utter, far-seeing lucidity…. in the sense that any moment, every moment, may be the all; for the artist there is nothing but the present, the eternal here and now, the expanding infinite moment which is flame and song.” And later in the article “On the contrary, his zest for life is so powerful, so voracious that it forces him to kill himself over and over. He dies many times in order to live innumerable lives.

I read a pattern in these. Of dying every day and being reborn the next day. A new life. I faintly understand and relate to this, but within me is another side that plans, that likes stability, and saves for a rainy day. I am unsure of how these two can co-exist. And I can’t help but be drawn to the lines at the beginning of the Miller post ““One aspect of our nature cannot be exalted above another, except and the expense of one or the other.” 

If so, I already know the winner, and as the first post points out, that would create an angst, or a perpetual state of discontent. It would seem as though the opposite of ‘die empty’ can only be ‘live empty’. There can be no middle path, and that’s scary and sad.

until next time, empty vessels and a lot of noise

Food for the soul

Thanks to Zomato, I got to spend some bak bak time with Mayur back in February. Along with Rocky, this guy gets to do the two things I’d rather do always – eat and travel. While it was a fun meet up, it was impossible to agree on the subject of meat. Most of the others around were fanatical carnivores – like myself (and I was wearing a tee with the message above) – so we traded insults with him for the first few minutes before the man silenced us with “food is like religion, and you should not piss on other people’s temples”.

After that the conversation quickly moved to life philosophy. I (along with at least one other person) was curious to know how he kept himself interested in the food + travel routine. Wouldn’t it get monotonous? We talked of retaining child-like levels of curiosity and wonder, an openness to experiences, of starting the day asking what newness can be done today and realised that as we grow older, we look for reasons not to do things, as opposed to the reverse.

After taking my trip with a food quote, (and underlining his instant wit) he went off to talk to other folks, and the rest of discussed how this also translates to how we interact with other people. Earlier, we used to trust others until they gave us a reason not to, and these days, it’s exactly the reverse. I wondered if this is probably related to the ‘openness to experiences’ we had talked of earlier.  More