My Father…my teacher…zindagi ke saath bhi zindagi ke baad bhi

To all of us emotional fools, a Father is a “shraddha sthana” a tower of trust and faith, a beacon as we grow up. Some of us never outgrow that stage and continue to be guided by the philosophy and learning of that towering personality. I have no hesitation to say I am one of those who continue to “look up” to my father, even so many years after his death!!

The lessons my father taught me were universal in their application and so am sharing three of these with you. Not that he was a great academic or a very learned man. He was born in a small village in Konkan and educated initially in a typical village school in vernacular medium. For college education, he first came to Mumbai and as soon as he completed his B. Com. degree, to support a large family (he being the eldest son in a Hindu family)he joined life insurance industry as an agent. That he retired as an Executive Director of LIC ( so now you understand the Zindagi ke saath… reference in the title) was a testimony to his rugged, native intelligence and his street smart & go getting nature. Though his four children got “gyan” from him in abundance, I want to share with you just 3 of his teachings which have stood by me in my life’s journey, and guided me through many a difficult situation.

First learning point: Many times in life we are faced with multiple choices and alternate routes. We analyse and agonize. We are unsure which path to take. And we spend hours and days in a flux, a confused state of mind; continuously wondering “mai idhar javun ya udhar javun”. And even when we have chosen one path, we keep wondering and questioning whether our choice was a right one, and whether we would have been better off on the road not chosen. Baba (that was what we 4 siblings called him) had a simple advice : “murder the alternative”. Think, analyse, debate, all you want before making a choice. Whatever choice you make (regardless of “right” or “wrong”) murder the alternative as you move along. Do not think, question, wonder whether the choice was right. Having chosen, murder the alternative and move on that decision with full focus and enthusiasm. Decisions, per se,are not right or wrong he exhorted. It is how you implement your decision which will make it right (or wrong). Once you murder the alternative your full attention and interest is tied to the chosen path. And you will be successful as you travel that road with your whole heart and full steam. Murder the alternative and enjoy the scenery on the chosen path.

Learning no 2 : “Doing a good deed is it’s own reward. Don’t expect that you will be rewarded for good acts. The very opportunity you got to do a good act, is it’s own reward.” Many times we think that I have done something positive and good, and so I deserve some special consequences. “What will I get in return?” is the thought that drives many of us. “Aama maru su?” as my Gujju friends have made famous. Or in management parlance WIIFM? (What Is In It For Me?) That is normal thinking. My Father’s challenge to that was: “God could have chosen anyone to do the good deed. Why did He get it done by your hands. You are privileged and rewarded already. What more do you want?” So the concept was “neki kar aur bhool ja” If you have done good, do not seek any returns. The great cycle of Karma will catch up with you. Your good works will be rewarded somewhere, sometime, by someone. Do not expect immediate returns. Good will come back to you from unexpected quarters. But do good and move on. Baba’s philosophy was very similar to the Zen teaching ” it is not the receiver but the giver who must be grateful” the Giver has, and so he can give. So truly the Giver must be thankful and grateful that he is blessed enough that he can give.

Final Learning point 3: This was long, long ago when I was just learning to drive and just had a Learner’s license. A health emergency made us pack 9 people in an Ambassador and we were driving down from Mumbai to Goa. My father was so distraught that he could not drive. I, all of 18, with just a few days of learning driving “experience” was thrust into the driver’s seat. Heavy responsibility on my head and I was scared half to death. I drove out of Mumbai, took the car upto Khopoli which signaled the beginning of the Bor Ghat. Those days everyone halted at Khopoli to cool the engine, put fresh water and wet cloth on the radiator to avoid over heating. And then began the treacherous 9.5 kms climb.

People travelling the expressway cannot imagine how difficult it was to climb from Khopoli to Lonavala. Small 2 track road. Heavy trucks. Sharp gradients. Hairpin bends galore. Mostly you had to be in 1st and 2nd gear. Engines and vehicles stalled on both sides of the narrow 2 track road and created their own challenges. Continuous Stop-Start and grueling zero speed climbs forced many to use stones under the rear wheel to prevent cars from rolling back. And now imagine a learner with a big, unwieldy Ambassador, over loaded to the hilt, having to climb the Bor Ghat.

So I stopped at Khopoli and told my father : pl take over the steering wheel, I can’t dare to climb the ghat. My father asked me why. I told him I was scared: the car will roll back. I can’t control. Too many lives at stake. I can’t drive. Coolly, even at that moment, my father turned to me and said: “Vikas don’t think of the 9.5 kms ghat. At every moment you have to just control the car for the next 20 feet. Keep climbing 20 feet at a time. And then climb the next 20 feet. Keep going, and the car will climb the ghat. Son, you worry about just 20 feet at a time. And that you can certainly do”

I did that and climbed the ghat. And realized the truth of his sentence. Later I learnt the English saying of swimming the sea, one wave at a time. What my father taught me that day has helped me overcome many mountains, many challenges as I went through life. Don’t worry about the size of the task. Climb just the next 20 feet. And then the next 20. Problem will get resolved. Many a time when I have been faced with complex problems and challenges in my 35 years’ professional career or 62 years’ life’s ups and down: my father’s advice still rings in my years : son think of controlling just the next 20 feet,the immediate problem, today’s issue. And the larger problem will get solved.

I was fortunate to have father like that. And am sure you too can gain from his native intelligent advice. So remember the three learnings: murder the alternative, climb the next 20 feet without getting scared of the big, bad mountain and eternally, be grateful and give what you can.

Be happy; go forth in confidence doing all the good you can : vikas, proud son of Sharatchandra

Theory & Practice: which side are you on?

What is important? Rather what is more important? Theory? or Practice?? or both?? Another question where the snake eats it’s own tail. And forces us to go round and round the mulberry bush.

But there is no gainsaying the fact that people are divided into 2 classes: Some who love the esoteric and Some who would any day prefer the comfort of actual practice, rather than theoretical ramblings. The Philosophers & the Practitioners, if you will!

These are different approaches and mindsets : and it is perfectly ok to prefer one side over the other; as that is how you are. Some of us are most enamored by the pure sciences and theories. We take great pride in debating alternate models. And have no discomfort if some fundamental contradictions are not resolved. Debates and alternate modelling is their trip in life.

And then, there are some of us who are very quick to make short shrift of theories. Here are the people who say “enough talk already; let us get down to business”. They love to roll their sleeves, get involved and contribute to the action. They are not happy sitting in front of blackboards or computer screens. Rather they would like to jump in the fray; and they get their thrills, from the hustle and bustle action environments where they can monitor and fire away from all cylinders. Fast and Furious to the core!!!!

What type of a person are you?

There is of course the not so pure strain of third set of people who are comfortable with conceptualizing and executing; they span the spectrum of theory and practice. These are more heuristic thinkers who can comfortably straddle both sides of the fence and are ready to equally focus on thinking and acting.

Pure sciences like Physics and Chemistry as well as streams like Astronomy and Mathematics are naturally attuned to theorizing. Most progress in these branches of knowledge has been due to theorists who could manipulate concepts and build models and through that route learn more and more about the subject under discussion. Har Gobind Khurana’s work on demystifying the DNA (carrying genetic codes and controlling the cell synthesis of the proteins) is a case in point where theorizing is pre-eminent.

A sportsman like Farook Engineer ( remember that opener?) or Mr MS Dhoni are the action oriented folks who have no time or patience for theory. They will attack the windmills a la Don Quixote ready to be taken to the stars, or cast into the mud. But sitting on the horse and wondering is not their cup of tea. That is why Mr Dhoni is called “the Finisher”.

APJ Abdul Kalam in his role as the DRDO & ISRO scientist to me typifies the third group. Theory blended with down to earth thinking and practice. Experimentation. Risk taking. Learning from mistakes. Carrying on. And with the achievement of the goal ever ready to think and aim for the next target. His books “Wings of Fire” and “India 2020” also share his vision and his aspirations for all of us. I was fortunate to hear him talk at an World Federation of Training & Development Organizations and his speech on how to develop people would have put a number of HR people present in the Ashoka Hall to shame. When I got a chance to express to him gushingly my admiration for what he spoke his simple reply was : My speech is on my website: study it and implement the ideas in the organization you represent and see how you can help other companies learn from my ideas and your experiences. Theory and Practice fuse in such a man.

So again which way do you swing? Theory? or Practice?

Of course success in today’s complicated world requires a proper blend of both. This is where the words of James Cash Penney ring out true and loud : “Theory is splendid but until put into practice, it is valueless”. (Isn’t it interesting and ironic that JC Penney’s middle name was Cash?). So practice, practice, practice. And the result will be perfect.

Enjoy the experience : vikas

Smruti & Srushti

The proverbial chicken and egg of philosophy. What came first? The image/concept /thought : Smruti. Or was it the creation, nature, the substantive form : Shrusti.

Let us explore this a little further. It is said that before a chair (or any object for that matter) is made, there must be a design, a form, an outline in the mind of the carpenter. Then only can he set out to make the physical chair, guided by his “Smruti”. To the proponents of Smruti, the mind/the inner eye/the visualization is all powerful. Indeed it is where it all begins: as without a concept in the mind what will you create in the physical sense? This is an argument forwarded by the Believers to prove the very existence of God. How could the world have come into existence unless God/Jehovah/Allah/Bhagwan first thought of it. And then made it: brought it into existence. So Smruti first.

The professors of Shrusti would ask: from where does the dream, the concept,the thought come? The thought must come from something substantial, concrete and solid: an outcome of Shrusti. Smruti happens within Srusti, to Adam or the Purusha who has to precede the conceptualization. So without creation, Smruti does not exist. After all Smruti of what? it is the dream or abstraction of Shrusti. An interesting argument put forth by this group is : if I were standing within touching distance of a tree and suppose I close my eyes: what happens to the tree? Does the tree still exist when I close my eyes? It is in my memory. But that is because I have seen the actual tree before. In the absence of Shrusti can Smruti exist?

Like most conundrums this one not have a definitive answer. Nevertheless we should be aware of the interplay of Smruti and Srushti (or Srushti and Smruti,if you will )as that is what creates the world around us as well as the world within us. (This I believe is the best way to understand the Hindu philosophical concept of “Maya”) Perception plays a substantial role in shaping the reality around us and within us. Blissfully sometimes we carry on unaware of the dynamic interplay and thus end up taking strong positions because we believe our worldview. What I am cautioning is that this could very well be only one side of the argument. And we need to pause and appreciate the other world view, even if it is not in support of our own.

The strident espousal of one approach, one way of thinking, one point of view is really putting all of us at risk. And at loggerheads. We must openly accept that your world view,your smruti and your shrusti can very well be different from mine.
That does not make mine weaker or less believable. Nor does it give an automatic superiority to yours. We need to dialogue to understand each others’ point of view. And chart out a way forward based on mutual discussions and understanding,rather than believing my point of view prevails above all.

Since we began with the simile of chicken and egg, let me end with a facile joke which answers this question of what comes first. When Pandu the simpleton in our village Sawantwadi was asked this moot question: what comes first the chicken of the egg? He pondered over the question for a while and then gave his famous pronouncement : “I am sure whatever you order first in the hotel will come first. So it could be chicken if ordered first: or the egg”!!!! So also in the Hotel “Maya” run by that Power you will get Shrusti or Smruti depending on what you have ordered!!! So relax and enjoy the experience….

This is my Shrusti and my Smruti.
May you discover yours: vikas

Women of substance…Begum Jaan & her 11…some pondering

We saw Begum Jaan last night. A period film set in the times of Independence. An ensemble cast with some interesting names. Led by our much decorated actress with multiple national awards: Vidya Balan. In the Cinepolis VIP theater for the 8pm show my family had the privilege of experiencing a “private” screening : we were the only 3 people in the entire theater!! That itself should tell you a lot.

It was sad because the theme chosen by Srijit Mukherjee is powerful. And the writer/ director is attempting to tell this story a second time : it is a remake of his own earlier made Bengali file Rajkahini.. So Srijit deserves space in my memory book for telling the story second time: and still getting it wrong!!! I have not seen the original Rajkahini; but Begum Jaan just fails to take off, make an impression or grip you from the start. Which explains the 3 people audience ( all from one family) and an empty theater for a late evening show.

The protagonist is “tough as nails” brothel keeper whose life and living is being uprooted by the Radcliffe Line, which passes right through her palatial house of ill fame. Of course it disrupts and disturbs lives as the challenge the Radcliffe Line poses is bifurcating the settled lives of Begum Jaan and her girls. The story is about how Begum Jaan and her motley bunch of “girls” oppose the Police, the functionaries of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League,  and finally the local goondas. And die a fiery death while trying to protect their life style and their freedom.

While the backdrop is the independence movement, and the riots and human misery which got unleashed at the time of Partition, the whole treatment of the events appears totally facile and simplistic. And when the main holocaust is portrayed so poorly how can the implication of this development for Begum Jaan and her bunch of harlots involve, grip and arrest you? The same holds true for all the side themes of caste-ism, self gain & poverty of thinking or planning by the bureacracy, irrelevance and greed of Kings, and the sheer betrayal by the school teacher. Good side themes. But none of them presented powerfully.

Vidya Balan uses her talent to create a memorable character of a foul mouthed, curses spewing, iron fisted & feudalistic brothel keeper.  But the innate contradictions in the way  her character has been written by Srijit stare the discerning audience in the face. Even while she is objecting to the arbitrariness of the British rulers, and the INC & ML henchmen Begum Jaan herself comes across as a self willed and manipulative woman. Becoming exactly what she detests.  Her use of her relationship with the local Raja ( Naseeruddin Shah) by sacrificing a new virgin girl or the way she treats the village Master or her own bodyguard show Begum Jaan to be as shallow and shaken as the people she is opposing. My heart went out to Begum Jaan only in the very last sequences where she is asking her 11 prostitues to run away while she will stay alone and fight. And when they refuse, the spirited manner in which she fights and leads her “woman army” to attack the intruders multiplies your respect for what she stands for. And at the very end, a la Rani Padmini, how she leads the 5 women who are left standing into the burning haveli…i was most impressed with the smile lighting up her lips and eyes, as she accepts her final fate. By her example she she also helps the other girls accept their fate smilingly. Watch the movie just for Vidya Balan : here is an actress who can raise the movie to a level higher than what even the Director or the rest of the big cast line up can do!!

Naseer, Gauhar Khan, Vidyarthi, Rajit Kapur, Rajesh Sharma, Mushran, Ila Arun et al play their parts well but lack the sparkle that would fire your heart. Only other person who has elevated himself and his role is Chunky Pandey as the villain. Without typical Hindi film melodrama and raised voices, Chunky instills fear and anger in a subtle underplayed role which leaves deep impression. One wonders where was this talent hidden by Chunky for all these years. He never let us know his true capability. But in Begum Jaan he puts his calling card on the table most firmly.

Just two more things : one which I liked and one which I hated. First the bad news. I just could not understand why any and every interaction amongst the 11 girls in the house is high  and shouting pitched. They never have a normal conversation: all are shouting matches. What was Srijit thinking? But on another plane I loved the way Srijit has used historical Indian lore to bind the script and story together. The use of computer graphics while recounting stories of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi or Razia Sultan drive the story forward and stitch events well together.  The use of Rani Padmavati story for the climax leaves a deep impression and makes the entire finale very believable. So also the use of the old Pyasa song: Wo subah kabhi to aayegi… Goose bumps as you leave the cinema hall.

So in the rhetoric of active feminism does Begum Jaan make a powerful statement? Yes and No. The theme and direction is right. But the execution could have been much, much better. So the final scorecard would read : Vidya Balan 7 Srijit 2 (out of 10).

Bombay Times had shown a group photograph of the Begum Jaan team and said this team together has won 20 National Awards. Wonder where the Awards winning performances got lost in the Partition drama?

Love : vikas

White lies. Black lies. & Other lies

I am sure there does not exist anyone on this earth who has not lied; sometime, some place, somewhere. In this respect, most of us begin early. As kids when faced with a difficult question from your Mother, the temptation to take the easier way out and make an innocuous excuse/lie is par for the course. When Fathers ask tough questions about studying or about our friends, again we do take some liberty with the truth. And creatively change reality to escape more difficult consequences. Bunking classes; catching a movie; trying a cigarette (or at times something stronger); continuing friendship with persons our parents feel are a bad influence : in all these, and many more similar challenging  circumstances, we take the easier way out and either indulge in half truths or blatant lies. And we easily explain to our conscience that it is for the “larger good/peace/happiness” or what have you. Have we all not played along in this game?

At one extreme end is  the famous white (? or black??) lie of Yudhishtir (encouraged by Krishna) who informed Drona that  “Ashwatthama hato” (Ashwatthama is dead) adding sotto voce “Naro wa Kunjarova aham nahi jananti”. This lie, from a true follower of Dharma like Yudhishtir, caused Guru Drona to disarm himself in grief of having lost his son. Thus, Drona the Commander of Kaurava army, who could not be defeated, was left defense less due to Krishna’s subterfuge.That lie has become an epitome of expediency. Of means v/s ends debate. All with very large scale consequences. Least of all being the “fact” that Yudhishtir was till then so pure a follower of Dharma that his chariot reportedly ran an inch above the earth surface: but this lie made him as much a mortal as all of us and his chariot after that never flew above the earth; but traveled on the surface of earth like all others’ chariots. A classic Puranic tale which also underlies that “gods” themselves are not above lies?

In more modern times our dear Mr President Trump’s inauguration attendance created its’ own controversy and gave birth to the concept of “alternative facts”. Though most of the world later debunked this terminology and as so accurately called out   on the air by NBC’s  Chuck Todd “Alternative facts are not facts, they’re falsehoods!”. Nevertheless am sure the Trump brigade genuinely believed the alternate facts. And held firm their own image in their mind.

While both these examples are of epic proportions, world history gives us many many more in times of war and in times of peace. The fact remains that humans are not averse to modifying facts and reality to serve their own immediate need. The “spin doctors” whom Vance Packard way back in 1957 called the “Hidden Persuaders” are at it all the time. Creatively changing “facts” to suit their arguments the game is never fair and truthful. Always there is an axe to grind and a opinion to modify: after being subjected to interpretation and modification. Most of modern day marketing and advertising is creating impressions and hopes which may or may not be truthful. How many people do we know personally who have benefited from fairness creams? but that still is a huge market with it’s own followers.

I am frankly not too concerned with these “epic” lies and spins. As a student of human behavior, I am more interested in understanding why, and how, we everyday people also indulge in this “story telling” , and creatively altering reality and marshaling ( or hiding for that matter) facts as we live our lives, and express our opinions on a day to day basis. Do we not see the falsehood we profess? or is it so ingrained and so subtle that we do this “naturally” and without any sense of guilt?

This worries me a lot, as we cannot ever be sure whether what we are hearing or what we are being shown is “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” . Philosophically and fundamentally, the more basic issue is : is there a common reality? or is each one of us living in our own world bound by our own reality which we cannot share?

Questions, questions, questions. And I can’t even appeal to Krishna to lead me to the answer!!!!!

Yours in quandary: vikas

Smile!!!…you are on Candid camera…

John Lennon is credited with that earth shattering insight: “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.”

We all have our favorite stories of how we were suddenly accosted with a different reality which stopped us in our tracks and made us re-evaluate what we were planning to do.  (Reminds me of the famous philosophical joke: “how do you make God laugh? “well tell him of your plans for the coming year”)  My most recent brush with this altering reality experience was when we had some “friendly relatives/relatives who are more friends” as house guests. They were on way to an European sojourn and we all wanted to spend time together before their travel. Many plans were made. Minute by minute itineraries; meal by meal menus and the whole damn twelve yards. And one day into our time together (everything going like a house on fire ) : my wife has a bad fall and we spend next 16 hours in a hospital – outside the operation theater and intensive care unit. When you are tense and worried about recovery of a dear one it is difficult to shrug the proverbial philosophical shoulders and carry on. One does wonder how a Plato or an Aristotle  would have thought their way out of this bind.

Does this happen because we want a great level of predictability in our lives? Our desire to control what is going on in our lives is always so high. And when that gets off the track we feel uncomfortable. Of course no one likes an accident or a fall. But I know of many examples when even happy and good events which happened suddenly cause the crease of worry on our foreheads: why did this happen? How? if I did not cause it and work for it would it be taken away from me??. The underlying philosophy is : I am the master of my life. I control things. I make events happen. I must be able to predict everything.

In reality what can be farther from the fact? are we really in control? are events linked causally? and if they are am I am the “karta/dharta” ? Many times actually it is the butterfly effect: when seemingly unrelated and small actions all add to creating a tsunami in our lives. Life is certainly an integrated chain of events. An effect follows from a cause. But then Effects in turn cause other Effects. And the cycle is so much linked like a web that you can not really isolate in a pure manner an effect and it’s true/solitary cause.  To use the age old cliche : am I like the small fly sitting on the wheels of Arjuna’s chariot wheel? looking back and thinking proud about the amount of dust I am kicking up? What do I really cause to happen around me?

Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness says it all in the very title of the book. We think we are in control. We project ourselves as powerful and causal. But the real intricate web of cause and effects behind the scene carries on regardless. Life is as much a surprise as it is predictable. And that is the true joy of living. An aseptic in control totally predictable life will be difficult to get through. So while accidents and incidents create challenges and difficulties in life: they are the experiences which spice our lives and make the whole business of living so enjoyable and glorious. The sheer uncertainty keeps us on the edge and the thrill alive!  Life is indeed an adventure!! A treasure hunt where the rewards and the punishments are as much a part of the journey as the curious twists and turns we have to face as we move along.

I will end with an advice one of my bosses in Johnson and Johnson use to give us. We were a motley crowd of HR professionals setting out to transform the HR world in J&J across the globe. The project had many ups and downs : great moments of frustrations and challenges. When ever the team was down Kaye Foster-Cheek our thethen Global HR head had this to say: “Trust the process”. I think that is great advice as we live through life. We can question/fret/fume and tear our hair. But at the end of the day : Trust the process.

You get only one chance in life. And the “best” part is that NO one gets out of this game alive. So I  always look upto the sky and say:  I am ready! Lay it on. I am ready.  I am emboldened by my faith. And I trust the process. Do you?

Love: vikas


Final piece on Sentire ergo sum…(3)

“Much sound and fury signifying nothing”? ( Sotto voce: How is it that the Bard has said something in the 16th Century which is directly applicable to us and our situation today?) Much has been said and written in the last few posts on whether Man is a Thinking being or a Feeling being. Views and expressions on both side of the table.  Strong arguments. Differing perspectives. And the jury is still out!

A friend had pointed out that in Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum” is implied the self awareness of man. I think. I am. Both propositions cannot survive without intervening self awareness. And feelings are very much a part of this self awareness. So Thinking is a larger construct and Feeling is a subset. So Cogito implicitly involves Sentire. Hence my friend concludes Descartes is right when he proclaims Cogito ergo sum. ( and correspondingly Vikas is wrong.)

Since I am disagreeing with intellectuals certainly superior to me (Descartes in past; Victor on WP; other friends in today’s times) let me first define “Sentire” : what I mean by feelings and emotions

  • firstly I define “feeling” as perceiving; experiencing: judging: being aware: being touched by something
  • to me the feeling person will try; test; essay; endeavor and even attempt something through which s/he understands/experiences/interacts with the world reality outside and therefrom forms own inner reality
  • not to forget the flip side of the coin: feeling also can encompass blame; condemning; hating; rejecting; standing against
  • and through all these processes : feeling is about investigation and responding

So yes I am broad basing the concept of Sentire : feeling is not just an emotional reaction but rather a higher concept.  So you will see that such emotional people should be treasured. They love deeply and think deeply about life. They are loyal honest and true. Simplest things sometimes mean the most to them. Their purity makes them who they are. They don’t need to change or harden. They are. That’s it.

All great things are achieved through such dedicated focus. Complete trust and unwavering belief is their core. They are in love with what they sense and feel: and they cannot think of any other reality. They transcend the dry intellectual logical stances. They give themselves completely. And in a way they feel complete in themselves as the feelings are so intense and drive them to what they feel is the “true north”.

The Noble laureate Yiddish author Issac Bashevis Singer in another context says it so well :  ” The very essence of literature is the war between emotion and intellect, between life and death. When literature becomes too intellectual – when it begins to ignore the passions, the emotions – it becomes sterile, silly, and actually without substance.”  And as true blooded experience hungry souls I am sure none of us want to be sterile, silly, and without substance. I would any day let my feelings and emotions take over as the guide and compass of my life.

To conclude : that is my stance. But life is not so simple that only one one “truth” prevails. Multiple are the ways to the Allah. I thank you for allowing me to express mine. And indulging me so far.   I respect your views and truths especially if they are different from mine.  I had read somewhere : a great truth is one whose opposite is also a great truth. Wishing you the very best on your path: as you wish me safe travels on mine.

Your fellow traveler: vikas

Sentire ergo sum….(2)

Let me dig myself into a deeper grave. When i wrote in my last blog that Cogito ergo sum is passe and it is Feeling (sentire) that defines man and not thinking : I got may interesting challenges by mail; sms & calls. Hence in this blog. I am trying the explore the subject a bit more. Bear with me.

Maybe having been an Human Resources professional for 35+ years in Corporate India and before that a Psychology student in undergrad and post-grad level piqued my passion to study and understand people. Try to understand what they do and why they do what they do.

Even growing up as a child I was heavily into English Literature. Alongwith all the Classics I devoured with equal fervor the genre of thrillers and intrigue.  Poetry always held special fascination for the flashes of insights into the way we are. A la Ulysses ” always roaming with a hungry heart Much have I seen  and known”. My father’s transferable job took us all across the length and breadth of India during our early life. Completing my 11 years’ schooling in 8 different schools seemed like a challenge then! But I enjoyed every transfer giving us a new place to live in; a new culture to experience. In my career again I traveled the world meeting new people; experiencing new geographies. And in all this time I NEVER met a person who was “cogito” : a rational man to the core.

Rather I have seen all data and analysis pointing one logical outcome and our “thinking man” get hijacked by his emotional side. Hunches and intuition make decisions after all facts are on table. Alternately put: why someone did what s/he did cannot be explained by rationality alone. That is why I say Sentire ergo sum.

Some interesting challenges which I got were:

  1. Thinking is a prerogative of  humankind. Animals and plants also have feelings. Man is the only one who can think.
  2. Feelings are a product of our emotions. Feelings are only an interplay of our emotions. Much intellect is not necessary.
  3. Feelings need to be expressed. But what about repressed feelings and emotions? what about negative feelings?
  4. Descartes associates thinking with “am”ness. Only because of ‘I think’ (I know) ‘I am’.  Descartes indicates self awareness which again is possible only for humankind.

I am noting down all these challenges just so all of us can think and consider them  and their implications on the thesis “sentire ergo sum”. We may all see it with different perspectives; have differing points of view; and even reach differing conclusions. Which to me is fine. Unlike Physics or Maths we need not reach one conclusion in Philosophy. There is no “right” answer we all MUST converge on. As Mao said so brilliantly: “Let thousand flowers bloom.” While thinking (cogito) is preeminent & important; to me the emotion and feeling is the deeper truth; the opinion and intellect is the more superficial one. I end with one of my favorite quotes from Helen Keller : “The best and the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”  and so Sentire ergo sum!

Sentire ergo sum

I tend to differ from Descartes’ now famous exposition: Cogito ergo sum. Cogito??? Does thinking define mankind? I would rather paraphrase the famous statement as “Sentire ergo sum”: I feel therefore I am. Let me explain.

Though important for mankind thinking does not really differentiate and make man unique. I am not  saying this only because of the rapid advances in “thinking machines” or artificial intelligence or heuristic programming or computers that learn. The speed with which all these technologies are moving ahead leave no doubt in any observer that man’s preeminence will have to be defined by some other characteristic than logical thinking. We stare at a time when the machine behind the man ( and not the earlier model of man behind the machine) will determine the future course of progress as well as our end  goal posts. So thinking is not the sole prerogative of and chief differentiation for mankind.

My candidate for the top differentiator is Feeling. Because of his ability to feel man is unique. Emotions and the feelings that course through him are the “unique sauce” that maketh a man. Hence Sentire ergo sum.

At a very personal level each and everyone of us have experienced times when the “head” told us something and our “heart” suggested the opposite. Though it was not logical and not based on data on hand and not prompted by the “facts of the case” we have done what we intuitively felt was right: and felt very good about following that path. Did feelings not overtake thinking at such points? Recollect the soldier at the frontier who logically knows the odds of being outnumbered and surrounded by the enemy and still for the emotions that rise when he sees his country’s flag is ready to lay down his most precious possession i.e. his very life for his Motherland. All of us have personally experienced the love of our own mothers who have loved us divest of any logic and for whom our entire heart head and being is perpetually in a state of gratitude. Our own love for children and the extent to which we are ready to go out on a limb for them should convince all that there is much more beyond mere thinking and logical analysis.

Can all these aspects of our lives be explained by logic and by thinking? Feeling overtakes and drives all that we do. Feeling helps us make more sense of our lives and circumstances. And I believe it is our ability to feel that differentiates us and makes us unique from all others. Correspondingly if I can understand and channelize my feelings better I will be be able to do more. Experience more happiness. Be more in control of my life. And generally be a much better human being than I am today.

Logical? Or more importantly: do you feel what I am saying makes sense? In the next blog I would like to explore more about feelings and look more holistically at feelings and the multiple levels at which this subject can be understood. However before that I look forward to your views and feedback on this topic.

in anticipation: vikas






The day after

It is said by more experienced lovers than me that the true test of a great relationship is judged not by the torridness in the bed the night before; rather it is epitomized by the feelings that course through you “the day after”. I learn the truth of this statement the morning after I wrote my first blog.

I had got many WA messages and sms of encouragement and congratulations: but I was keen to see something online. And praise be to the Lord  and Master but actually there were 2 comments on each of the two blogs i posted yesterday.  so what if the 4 comments were by 3 authors; somebody out there was reading!!!

Well begun is All Done. Today is Sunday and I can rest.

Must confess though that the blogbug has bitten deep and sure. In my walk today I was actually mulling over what I could write on: topics which would be on interest to others and about which I have an opinion/something to say. The test for me was : would I read a blog on this issue if someone else wrote it. If answer is Yes then it is a fair subject. As as I walked subjects/ideas kept popping up where ever I looked or whichever turn I took. It is going to be fun and interesting I thought.

some rules I have decided ( and these are up for your comments/inputs) :

  • focus on my own experience and opinions
  • no theoretical pontification; no jargonese
  • KISS ( Keep it Short Stupid)
  • have fun and spread fun

see you around : vikas