Serendipity

Serendipity is defined as, ” the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way” The word originated in 1754: coined by Horace Walpole, suggested by The Three Princes of Serendip, the title of a fairy tale, in which the heroes were always making discoveries, by accidents & sagacity, of things they were not in quest of. There are many many examples of serendipity aiding & abetting our lives. To exemplify, look at the discovery of penicillin. One of the first & still one of the most widely used antibiotic agents, derived from the Penicillium mold. In 1928 Alexander Fleming first observed that colonies of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus failed to grow in those areas of a culture that had been accidentally contaminated by the green mold Penicillium notatum. He isolated the mold, grew it in a fluid medium, & found that it produced a substance capable of killing many of the common bacteria that infect humans. Even today infection control is largely dependent on the serendipitous discovery of penicillin.

In my 67 long years, indeed a la Ulysses, ” much have I seen and known” …”Myself not least, but honour’d of them all” But today I sit in confession. Maybe I did not deserve the credit…it was serendipity at play; & I thought I should share some notable occurrences.

अब अपनी रूह के छालों का कुछ हिसाब करूँ,
मैं चाहता था चराग़ों को आफ़्ताब करूँ| (
Now let me take account of the wounds on my soul; My desire is to make the lamps as beautiful as the Sun)

When I look back on the events of my life there are a great many examples I can quote where events developed by chance in a beneficial way ( the classic definition of serendipity) But if I look on my life as Chapters, the whole Chapter associated with my 6 years in Atul is replete with serendipity. Let me explain how & why.

I was a Factory Personnel Manager in the Kalwa factory of Siemens, on Thane Belapur Road. Doing well career wise, as well as financially, after 10 years of service. Important job where I was making a difference. Unfortunately I made myself indispensable in Kalwa & so opportunities to grow in Siemens were passing me by. The last straw on the camel’s back was the promised deputation/training in HQ at Germany was given not once but thrice to people I felt were less deserving than me. Siemens then was golden cage & no one thought I would leave.

मुझे अब देख कर हँसती है दुनिया,
मैं सबके सामने रोने लगा था| (
Today the world looks at me & laughs; But I had started crying before all)

Along comes Serendipity & a consultant talked to me about an opportunity in Atul Products at Valsad. I interviewed, got selected as Asst. General Manager HRD. We went & saw the location and fell in love with the greenery & quality of living at the campus. I resigned & went to Atul, to the disgust of all my Bombaiyya friends. The day I went to join, Serendipity struck again. The GM HR & Admin had resigned just a week ago. So before joining, I was promoted!!! The MD told me I would take over as General Manager & head the Department!! I tried to tell I am ready to join as Asst. General Manager; see my work & then promote me. But Serendipity had struck!! I was given a higher title, higher grade, more compensation, bigger bungalow, bigger car all on my joining day!!!

Atul township gave us the best 6 years of our lives. Huge bungalow to live in & 3 mins commute from factory to house. All my free time I could spend with Rashmi, who was 6 months then. We had become parents 10 years after our marriage. So what one had hankered after, was served on a platter. Till Rashmi become 6 years of age, every day 515 pm to 730 pm, I was with her in the children’ park. Would Bombay & Siemens give me this luxury? Serendipity helped.

HMB the secretary allotted to me, was another signal from heaven that someone up there loved me. The bond he developed with my family was blessing personified!! Every day he would get fresh Mola Ganthiya for Rashmi to chew as she was teething. Giving her scooter rides when she grew up became part of his daily routine. Doctor visits for inoculation & minor sickness, we were always accompanied by him. HMB was so critical to our lives that Vinita used to say, you can travel when you want but then HMB must be in town. I got not a colleague but a brother & that relation continues even 25 years after I have left Atul. There are far too many such contacts to recollect individually. The Finance Head, the Company Doctor, the Legal Advisor all became family. As did the union leaders who are still in touch!!! The limit was our neighbors JMT & family, who would come on their own if they heard Rashmi crying, pick her up & take her to their house. They would feed her & then we were expected to go to their bungalow & have our dinner there, while the son and daughter regaled Rashmi. A confirmed Rum drinker like me had more Scotch in Atul than I have ever consumed before & after Atul. Happy & beneficial occurrences indeed, serendipity guiding our lives.

वो अब आईने धोता फिर रहा है,
उसे चेहरे पे शक होने लगा था|
( he is now washing the mirror; he was doubting his very face)

My team members especially MAB & MRC de facto took over the entire IR workload. Brilliant professionals in their own right, they had a hunger in their belly to prove themselves. I just had to let go & they picked up the ball and ran, made goals, made the department win. Frankly my contribution was just managing the periphery. The MD & other Directors had to be convinced by me. We had common union agreements for all companies on campus. So those MDs & Boards were my responsibility. Representing Atul with the Senior Union Leaders who were National & State level politicians and aligning our agenda with their demands was my role. But MAB and MRC made me a de facto “absentee landlord”. I had to just give directions & get out of their way. They delivered on the grunge work. And I basked in the glory. Serendipity? 101%

Still remember when we were recruiting a HR senior professional from StanChart the consultant told me ” Vikas it will be like riding a tiger. Are you sure you want to hire a threat for yourself?” I told him I am happiest when someone else does my job, then I can find something else to do. After 6 fabulous years at Atul, my Siemens HR Director came & invited me to re-join Siemens. I took that chance to come back to Mumbai, the mecca of professionals. Again a happy development that chance put in my lap, literally.

There are many other events & occurrences where I felt I lived a charmed existence in Atul. The friends I made in Atul are in my life even now & they play a most important role in my well-being even now. When I look back & think I did not want to join a family owned organization which had no brand value compared to Siemens way back in 1991, I see the strong hand of Serendipity at play. कालIय तस्मै नमः There was a time I used to feel proud of myself, as a great HR professional. Humility has taught me to thank Serendipity!!!

चुराता हूँ अब आँखें आइनों से,
ख़ुदा का सामना होने लगा था| विकास
( I now steal my eyes from the mirror; Coming face to Face with God: vikas)

PS all quotes are from Rahat Indori, first appearing my friend Shri Krishna Sharma’s blog आसमान धुनिए के छप्पर सा.English translations are my own. E&OE

PS2 My youngest sister says she likes only those of my blogs where I share stories. This one is full of them. Hope serendipity propels her to like this one.

Mishtooks Galore

Merriam-Webster records 116 synonyms and antonyms for mistake, not including my personal twist on the word above. Mishtook, because it exemplifies and illustrates a mistake. What better way to explain it than by a demo, which catches attention? We all are surrounded by mistakes, errors, something gone wrong, misjudgments, blunders, misunderstandings, miscalculations, & we have to make our way through these troubled waters, the Scyalla & Charybdis to pursue our life goals and emerge successful.

So indeed we are all aware of mistakes, having made so many of them in our own lives. Some acknowledged as mistakes; many defended no end! Some learning points along the way; while many ignored & hence repeated!!! Yes we are indeed aware of mistakes as a topic & have often spent time mulling over them, Intuitively we know in mistakes there is a spectrum on severity & implications. Beginning from an error : I took a wrong turn while searching for an address. Mistake it is, as this error will take me further & further away from my destination. Error, lapse, slip, wrong but not earth shattering; easily correctible. Unless it is career wrong turn!!!

The second level would be misjudgment, miscalculation, a wrong statement/action a mistake whose consequences are not what we had bargained for & hence we resent/regret it. Not following genuine & well intentioned advice of friends, who know better, is a classic example. And finally, not following your girl-friend or wife’s advice takes it to the next level. Undoubtedly all my readers will agree that is a Blunder. 3rd level : blunder, goof-up, blooper, gaffe, snafu, foul-up would be words you can describe such a mistake of major implications on present and future. The Bay of Pigs Disaster which permanently scarred US & Russian relations is an example of Blunder.

Ok, so why are we interested in mistakes? Mistakes have the power to make you something better than you were before. When you accept your mistake & take action to overcome it, you are saying to the world you are better today, that you were yesterday. You know more now than earlier. And that is a great thing. Winston Churchill is credited with,” All men make mistakes, but only the wise ones learn from their mistakes” In fact it is said, there are no mistakes or failures, only lessons. Remember Edison who tried 1000 different elements while trying to invent the electric bulb. Some glowed but broke off, some were stable but did not give out any light. A journalist ridiculed Edison,” You have failed 1000 times” ,” No,” replied Edison” I know 1000 elements that do not work“. If you want to grow & move ahead in life, you must get over the fear of making mistakes. That is what lives of great people have taught us again & again. “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” Oscar Wilde. More the experience less the mistakes. More the Mistakes More the experience. A real virtuous circle???

When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.” Paul Bear Bryant. Mistakes can be the biggest teachers one can have in the journey of life. Make mistakes, learn from them & move on. Make glorious mistakes. Amazing mistakes. Go where no one has gone before. Do not freeze. Do not worry. Explore. Try new things. Whatever you are scared of, try it. Remember you are exposing yourself & the wider you go, greater the opportunity to learn. It is not how & what mistakes we make but the way we resolve the mistakes that defines us & shapes our life. And the best part is that you can equally learn from other people’s mistakes, if you are sensitive and curious. Which is why James Joyce told us ,” Mistakes are the portals of discovery”. Make new mistakes every day!

Of course there are some historical mistakes which cannot be corrected. The decisions which JF Kennedy took in 1960s of supporting the exiled Cubans launch an “invasion” of Cuba scarred Russia/Cuba/USA relations for ever. Jawaharlal Nehru decision to cease fire in 1948 at the peak of the Kashmir issue & then seek UN involvement in Kashmir arguably has cost the Indian polity very heavily. Also referred by Gen Cariappa & press as The Himalayan Blunder, is something we live with even 75 years after the event. Certainly a mistake that cannot be course corrected. Our Missile Man Abdul Kalam has recounted how in 1979 he was Mission Director at Sriharikota, incharge of the Satellite launch program At T-4 before launch, the computer system put a hold, APJK consulted his scientists. They concluded the fuel leakage was not so severe that the launch velocity would not be reached. Kalam by-passed the computer & launched the system, only to see it go into the Bay of Bengal. Lessons learnt, the next launch in 1980 was successful. But 1979 was a mistake.

When such mistakes are done there is precious little one can do save & except capture learnings for future. But sometimes even that luxury is not afforded to you. In my life I always rue one such mistake. Being the agnostic & black sheep of the family, I wanted my marriage to have nothing to do with god. My father-in-law being a staunch Hindu and committed RSS person was not able to reconcile. He tried a lot to persuade me and Vinita for a Hindu Vedic ceremony. But we were immature; I was adamant. And we had a court registered marriage. I rue not listening to him. What would it have cost me except my ego? But i held firm & now will carry the guilt of hurting him to my grave, a mistake which cannot be corrected in any manner now.

To end this blog I want to relate another Einstein anecdote. which speaks to mistakes & how we should learn to handle them. Einstein was a prolific innovator scientist. All his life’s earnings were invested in 2 multi-storied laboratories. The buildings were wooden & contained all of Einstein’s scientific work n innovations. One summer day, an electric short circuit cased a fire in the labs. Within no time the flames were reaching the sky. Einstein & his son we standing in the open fields watching all their life’s earning turn to ashes. The son felt Einstein’s pain So he put his arm around the old man’s frail shoulders. At that moment Einstein spoke,” I am happy. All my mistakes are burnt to the ground. Now tomorrow I can start all over again!” What an attitude!!!

Here is hoping we all can imbibe Einstein’s attitude in handling the mistakes of our lives…vikas

#13

All movie lovers will remember the ebullient & effervescent Geeta Bali challenging a down & out Dev Anand with the lilting taunt,” तदबीर से बिगड़ी हुई तक़दीर बना ले; अपने पे भरोसा है तो, एक दाव लगा ले” The challenge expressed by Geeta Bali’s eyes is beautifully captured by Geeta Dutt’s voice & SD’s tune in Baazi(1951). While to the inveterate gambler Dev plays in the movie numbers are sacrosanct, actually if you think about it numbers play an important role in all our lives. Is it because Life is a BIG GAMBLE and we are all awaiting outcomes with bated breaths though out our lives? With such uncertainty surrounding us, numbers give a sense of definitiveness. Maybe that is why we hold on to numbers through out our fearful lives.

When I was in college in Mumbai in the early 1970s, Matka was King & Ratan Khatri who ran Matka gambling dens in Mumbai was the virtual Badshah of the streets. Every nook & corner had small cubby holes where you could go & register your bet. You were given a small, perforated slip detailing your bet. The model was simple. A 3-digit number would be declared in the evening. The total of the 3 digits was what you tried to predict. If you got it right, the payoff was 1:9, For every 1 Rupee you bet you stood to gain 9 Rs . If you predicted the 3 digits also, the payoff was 1: 72. eg if the 3 digits declared were 279. This adds up to 18, 1 plus 8 again is 9. If you had bet on 9, you were paid out 1: 9. If you placed a bet on 279 you got 72 Rs for every 1 Re you bet. These 3 digits were declared at 7 pm & then again at 11 pm. So you could play for the 7 pm declaration (called Open, don’t ask me why) and/or Close, which was declared at 11 pm. You could bet on a Number , a Pana (the 3-Digit combo) at Open or at Close or both. As the probability of getting the numbers right diminished, payouts became astronomical.

One thing Ratan Khatri managed was make every Mumbaikar familiar and cognizant of the English numbers. This was regardless of education and social class. All learnt to read and write English numbers. On the roads, at kerb sides, outside the betting dens the Pana (3 digits) and the Number was written in white chalk 2 times every day. If your bet was right the payout would happen in cash the next day. Every passing cab or rickshaw was scrutinised to see if it gave any lucky no you could use to bet that day. if 2 taxis had 5 and the ending no. you bet on 5 that day. Movies which showed vehicles’ number plates, advertisements, random slips of wrapping papers were all studiously checked for hints on what number to bet on today. Ratan Khatri laughed all the way to the bank, as the odds always favoured him. But Mumbai was hooked onto numbers.

This college memory is deep in my heart. But what can you say about numerologists and simpletons who will begin an endeavor on an auspicious date? Why is every donation 51 Rs or 101 Rs or 1001? Is a round no bad luck? The street matka mindset is repeated as you go up the social strata and the betting switches to Horse racing. Statistics & number tracking becomes more elaborate. Stakes multiply multifold. But how is the number game different when you talk of Cricket betting? Or the Satta Bazaar? or the number game on the floor of Stock Exchanges? Stakes are different, tools & techniques are different, but in all these games people play, Number is King. Science takes a back seat here along with rationality. And what rules is feelings, emotions, hunches & sentiments.

In a totally different context, Chinese consider number 4 as a symbol of death. While in the western world, hotels omit the 13th floor, in China it is 4th floor. Interestingly this mindset is also not uniform. I was doing some reading on whether & why number 13 is unlucky in some cultures & came across some interesting data. 13 is not actually Unlucky but rather considered auspicious in many cultures. One theory for 13 being unlucky is that this is due to the cultures employing lunar-solar calendars. There are approximately 12.41 lunations (the period of time averaging 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.8 seconds elapsing between two successive new moons) per solar year, and hence 12 “true months” plus a smaller, & often portentous, thirteenth month.

In ancient cultures, the number 13 represented femininity, because it corresponded to the number of lunar (menstrual) cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days). The theory is that, as the solar calendar triumphed over the lunar, the number thirteen became anathema. In France 13 was traditionally considered a lucky number prior to the First World War & was used in numerical form as a good luck symbol on postcards & charms. Neighboring Italy: 13 was the lucky number in football pools (Totocalcio). The Italian expression “fare tredici” (literally, “make thirteen”) means to hit the jackpot.

The United States of America was created from 13 British colonies. As such, the number 13 is recurring motif in American heraldry. e.g. there are 13 stars on the Great Seal of the United States & 13 stripes on the American flag. The chest shield in front of the spread eagle bears 13 stripes (seven white & six red). The eagle’s right talon holds the Olive Branch of Peace, bearing 13 olives & 13 olive leaves. The eagle’s left talon holds the Weapons of War, consisting of 13 arrows. The eagle’s mouth holds a scroll bearing the national motto “E Pluribus Unum” (which, by coincidence, consists of 13 letters).

In astronomy there are 13 star constellations in the zodiac (including Ophiuchus). In Judaism, 13 signifies the age at which a boy matures and becomes a Bar Mitzvah, i.e., a full member of the Jewish faith (counts as a member of Minyan). The number of principles of Jewish faith according to Maimonides. According to Rabbinic commentary on the Torah, God has 13 Attributes of Mercy.

So, if you ask is 13 lucky or unlucky, I will say to you that the Jury is still out. I proposed to my college sweetheart on the 13th day of November 1971, 5 decades ago. She said Yes. Whether I am lucky or unlucky I leave it to the readers to decide. I see my own answer change on and off, & sometimes multiple times in a day!!!

So remember, it is not the number, it is all in your mind : vikas

PS: this blog owes a lot to the inspiration provided by Vinit Deo & the article at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/05/science/chinese-new-year-lunar-calendar

Zugzwang (n.)

phrase from chess, but applicable to life

a situation in which the obligation to make a move in one’s turn is a serious, often decisive, disadvantage

Think of an unmarried son or daughter coming home during the vacation. The child (?) is already past 26/27: the age considered appropriate for getting wed, by Indian standards. Finding a suitable time, the parents sit their progeny down & pop the million dollar question, the elephant in the room, ” When are you planning to get married and settle down? You are not getting any younger?”

The youngster’s situation can best explain the concept of zugzwang. Think of the alternatives:

  1. S/he does not want to get married at all. Or at least not at this time and considers there is plenty of time ahead.
  2. H/she already has some particular person in mind…has made promises or commitments.. but does not want to tell the parents now, wanting to stay away from ,” Why not tell us earlier? We could have met the person earlier? Do the other set of parents know? Could you not have waited some more? .” & other EBM ploys” Is she from our caste? Family background? Will the match appear right in the eyes of the relatives & friends from both sides? What does s/he do? etc. etc.

Consider the situation from the point of view of either party. And you can best understand zugzwang. Whatever words are spoken, or action is taken, is a decisive, serious disadvantage, which will cast it’s pall on whatever happens next. Life, & especially such situations, are truly zero-sum games per Decision Theory. Both parties cannot win. And in fact many times, both the parties feel they are losing, end up driving the discussion or decision to more & more unpalatable outcomes. The feeling of being caught between the devil & the deep sea makes everyone miserable. Tempers fly high, Emotions are at peak. And both feel that they are caught in a lose-lose game.

In Marathi there is a classic proverb धरल तर चावत , सोडल तर पळत. ( If you hold, it will bite, if you let it go, it will run away) Think of a snake ( a difficult situation) in your house( your life). Ok, so have caught the snake by the tail. How do you handle it now? Leaving it is fraught with risk., it will escape & fight/bite another day. But holding it by it’s tail is equally problematic; it can whip around & bite. Action must be taken. But every alternative is full of negative possibilities. A true zugzwang.

Life is complex & complicated only because rarely are you faced with a choice between good and bad. That one is easy. Quick wins guaranteed, But Life always presents us with zugzwang. Choices between 2 goods or 2 bad options. One side there may be marginally “more” good than the other option provides. But finally good is a judgement. It is a moving goal post. It changes depending on many indeterminates like your situation, what you can commit, time at your disposal, resources you have etc. etc. So how do we choose? {And we assume that we have the freedom to choose, which by itself is another deep hole.} Really, there are no clear answers which will stand the test of time and analysis, so often we just take a plunge based on limited data points & less-than-complete understanding. And then live the rest of our days agonizing whether our decision call was right. Did we choose the better right, euphemistically? No clear answers there!!

Then there is the choice between 2 bad things. Theoretically one less bad than the other. But how do we judge less and more? what scale do we use? There goes Alice down the Rabbit hole, yet again. Should Hitler have created multiple Concentration Camps or just one? Were the French Revolutionaries better with just the guillotine? Should they have worked on making the guillotine more efficient? Were Hitler’s mass graves with detainees themselves digging the graves, standing on the edge & getting shot better than the Gas Chambers? Which gas causes less pain and quicker death? Extreme examples but the principle is the same as is prevalent in today’s Avoidance Avoidance Conflict dilemmas. With a heart condition, stenting or open heart surgery? A routine test detects a lump. Should I do biopsy or live in uncertainty? Given the diagnosis of Breast cancer , Mastectomy or ChemoTherapy? Should I take radiation, knowing its side effects & harm it causes to surrounding good tissue? There are no blacks and whites left today…..there are multiple shades of grey making choices more and more difficult. What decision model will help me decide to switch off the ventilator for my parent, when the Dr in his Hippocratic stupor, claims there is life still, though in a vegetative state?

It is not only in Medical parlance we see such dilemmas. Think of a typical Union Management negotiation for a long term settlement. Both parties know that they need to resolve the issue & move forward. Though the end point must be mutually beneficial, Union must get a fair deal, wages and benefits, for the workmen, the Management must remain in the realm of capacity to pay, competitiveness and past history & future precedents it is creating. While these outer parameters are clear look at the extreme gamesmanship that often gets displayed in these situations. Most often neither party is ready to be open and transparent and that delays the solution. Both parties stick to their alternatives, without transparency and solution orientation, They both understand the obligation to make a move, but try to see that the attendant disadvantage to themselves is minimized. Sharply differing perspectives on advantage & disadvantage make union management negotiations a long drawn out affair. Same is true when you are negotiating to buy a house or salary & perks for a new job or even a re-sale of a car.

My father was not a good chess player. Additionally, he was a poor loser. So his strategy was simple. Play the game till such a time the outcome is still indeterminate, the game could go either way. Sometimes he would make the right moves at this stage and be in a winning position. Which was fine by him. But as soon as he realised he is cornered, there is no way he can wriggle out of the tight spot, & is staring at a Checkmate, he would put one finger under the chess board, and flip over the Board. Down would come tumbling, Knights, Horses, camels & all. Game over. Obviously he was not ready to be at a disadvantage.

On the other hand, in zugzwang there is an obligation to make a move, rooted in the knowledge that your move will end up with a significant disadvantage to you, how do you handle this? My father’s way will not make you friends. Rather a priori acceptance that Life will deal me many deals where I must play my best, humbly accept disadvantages which may lead to defeat, still not lose my gamemanship & accept the obligations to make my moves regardless of outcomes…that is the way to play this chess-game we call Life. Celebrate your losses. Celebrate the wins. Enjoy the game!

Remember what you lose on the swings, be ready to win on the roundabouts: vikas

Death, be not proud

Wikipedia defines Death as ” Death is the irreversible cessation of all biological functions that sustain an organism. Death is an inevitable process that eventually occurs in almost all organisms.” Remember Benjamin Franklin (1789), “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”. Despite being ubiquitous, Death is dreaded and rarely talked about, except in hushed tones & in dark corners. But I want to make it centerstage & say a few things about this universal phenomenon.

Ba Bha Borkar, a famous poet in Marathi, sings the story of life so very well:

नाही पुण्याची मोजणी
नाही पापाची टोचणी
जिणें गंगौघाचें पाणी


कशाचा न लागभाग
कशाचा न पाठलाग
आम्ही हो फुलांचे पराग

पूजेतल्या पानाफुला
मृत्यु सर्वांगसोहळा
धन्य निर्माल्याची कळI

(Transliteration: I do not count the merits, Nor do I count the sins, Life is a swirling cauldron; I have no attachments; Nor have any pursuits, Like the pollen of the flowers, …To the flowers offered to God, Death is mighty celebration, They feel blessed to be used & discarded)

Actually, if you think about it, it is strange to be afraid of Death. Really, Life hurts much more than Death!! Living is a daily struggle, mostly an uphill battle chasing dreams & other chimera. Sure, some successes but full of disappointments & pain, perpetually keeping us in a state of want, pushing us to achieve the next goal, something better, higher & faster. Ironically, even achievers are unhappy in their worlds. Satisfaction is a moving goal post. As against this continuous seeking, at the point of death, the pain is over!! Swarga, Nirvana, Salvation, the Promised land, Heaven, Jannat, all await us there. So why grieve? why fear death?

Partly I think this is caused by the imagery surrounding Death. The Grim Reaper. Yama, on a black bison. The Purgatory, the Boiling Cauldrons. Even though the Jesus story is of hope, as he came back to life, the sufferings on the Cross is what is majorly emphasized & not the Resurrection. Devoid of all the negative hype, what is wrong with death? Remember, it is inevitable…. Life is a game, and no one gets out of it alive. If you have lived a good life, then Death is an entry ticket into Eternity. And all religions promise that the afterlife will be much more rewarding & comforting, than the struggles of Life!! I think the fear of death follows from the fear of life & living, itself!!!

All these thoughts are prompted by the death of a friend’s mother, another friend’s sister & my own uncle, all in this month. Each life & each death is an unique story. But let us talk about my uncle. He was my father’s immediate next brother, & we all have very fond memories of his love and affection, in our childhood years. He introduced us to British Council libraries. He would assemble all kids at his house, get everyone to play cards, keep a running supply of snacks and nimbu-pani. The evening reward, for participating in the card-playing marathon, was an Ice-cream treat. This was before the Kwality & Joy family pack days. So the entire jing-bang was ferried in rickshaws to Kawre & Solanki Ice cream parlors. He first introduced us to an ice-cream lunch or dinner: idea was to have 5/6 or more, cups of different flavors, & skip the meal.

His giving was legendary. In my mother’s kitchen the Big dabbas of Steel & Copper were procured & supplied by my uncle. As were the crockery & cutlery sets. His loving nature apart, he was super intelligent. A ranker in his SSC exam at that time, his sense of humor was legion. Fie, if you were caught on the wrong end of his repartee…many family anecdotes were made from his caustic, but witty comments.

Somewhere down the line his loving nature gave way to bitterness. He behaved as though God has put him on earth to correct his fellow humans, to show them the right path. Full of vituperative anger & caustic sarcasm, he hurt many & left many wounded. Slowly, people started avoiding him. Even the family members bristled & kept their own counsel, on the other side of the road, where he walked. Unfortunately, this reinforced his feeling that the world is wrong, & he must intervene and tongue-lash people unto following his dictum. He lived to ripe age of 89, saw his children settled, disposed his property, made money & bank balances, but died lonely, and if truth be told, un-mourned. What makes a man change so much? “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies within us while we live” These words of Norman Cousins ring true when I think of my uncle. A loving, kingly man, witty and smart, the life of any party. Why and how does he turn into a man-eating ogre?

Death never takes a wise man by surprise. And wise my uncle certainly was. He had he had lived a full life, by his rules, and was “prepared & ready” to die. He never felt it necessary to grieve & mourn and would not have expected us to grieve. Don’t get me wrong. I am against the ostentatious Rajasthani practice of Rudaalis (professional mourners) immortalized by Mahasweta Devi’s short story, brought to life by Kalpana Lajmi and played by Rakhee & Dimple. Extreme show apart, I do believe Grief is a coping mechanism and has a place in life. Grief is not a disorder, a disease, or a sign of weakness. In the normal situation, grieving is a necessity, a price you pay for the love of the deceased. The only cure for grief is to grieve. But in the instant case the love had evaporated & so literally there was no grief. With all sincerity & humility, I hope, when I die, there will be no grief. Unlike my uncle, i have never tried to teach others the “right” path. But I believe I have shown acceptance and tolerance to all. I have lived a good life. I have no remnant desires. To his credit I must say my uncle too had a very peaceful death. I wish for the same.

ह्रदय कमल सूचि हो….बुद्धि मेरी विमल हो….तृष्णा से शांत मन हो….इतना तो करना स्वामी…जब प्राण तन से निकले (Transliteration: Let my heart be pure like the lotus…my intellect humble…mind free of desires… do at least this much Swami…when life leaves my body)

If you think clearly, “it is not death then a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live” (Marcus Aurelius). Live life king size, Enjoy with family & friends, Contribute whenever & wherever and accept Death, the Grim Reaper, Yama as a friend. A friend buying your ticket and accompanying you to the Beyond, a new Avatar. As a dear friend says, “ उस पल का इंतझार (eagerly await that moment)

So I repeat with John Donne ,” Death be not proud, …one short sleep past, we wake eternally, And Death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die”: vikas, the incurable hopeful

What Freedom Means to Me

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me/ I am a free human being with an independent will” postulated Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre. I will tell you what freedom is to me. No Fear. Walk where your heart leads you. Sans all restrictions and burdens. And yet Voltaire averred,” Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains” . Societal, Familial, Collegial, Organizational to say nothing of Religious and Ideological … pressures abound from all directions. Even my own history & experiences serve to bamboozle me. Slowly Freedom becomes a chimera we all admire & aspire for… but like the horizon, it fades further as we move towards it. And, those who do not move, do not notice the chains that bind them. And thus remain in the false impression that they are free!!! So, immediately after India celebrated it’s 75 years of Independence, I am sitting down to understand what freedom means to me.

If I look back in my own life, freedom was choosing to study Humanities/Arts when all my well-wishers wanted me to be a doctor or an engineer. Freedom was deciding to marry my cousin when others were proposing alternatives. Freedom was deciding to adopt a baby girl, and not a boy. While all these were decisions of importance, Freedom also was declaring that now that I am in a house of my own, i will not force myself to eat everything & clean my plate, as was expected in my father’s house. Rather petulantly I declared I will “waste” food & not force myself to eat all. Not showing obeisance to elders, refusal to touch their feet as expected in Indian society; Wearing dark shirts and light color trousers, when everyone went for the other way round, all were an expression of freedom. Wearing crumpled clothes & hair very, very short was freedom. Every rebellious act could be a statement of freedom. One followed Robert Frost in letter and spirit who said,” Freedom lies in being Bold”.

To me 3 names come to mind when I think of Freedom. Krishna, Savarkar & Mandela. Let me explain. Mythologically, the story of Krishna is a classic mix of freedom and free will. We are all aware of the events and activities surrounding Krishna’s birth in prison, Vasudeva carrying him out on that fateful night of torrential rain, Krishna being brought up by Nanda and Yoshoda. As Krishna started growing up his divine/free will started exerting and the actions that he took…killing of Puthana, Trinavrata and Bakasur all show actions taken to rid the surroundings of nefarious demons who were making the life of the common people difficult. Krishna’s role on Mahabharata & the expounding of the Bhagwat Geeta give us the importance of decisive action in life. The entire concept of Krishna Leela is a classic example of freedom of will & acting to ensure greatest good of the maximum number. The mythological stories of Krishna or Vishnu or Ram all underline the importance of doing the right thing and following the dictates of the heart, boldly and free of any restrictions.

Talk of Freedom, and to every Maharashtrian, the one name which shines the brightest is that of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Savarkar’s iconic escape from the ship, which was carrying him back to India, while it was docked at Marseilles is a story often repeated when people talk of the love for freedom. His incarceration at the Cellular Jail (Kaala Pani) in the Andamans physically imprisoned him, but most of his time was spent writing books, essays, novels and poetry which were nationalistic in fervor and urged all Hindus to agitate for freedom. Freedom was his first love and literally he laid his life down for freedom of thought and expression. To me George Orwell’s words ring truest when we think of Savarkar’s contribution,” If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”. The clarion call of Savarkar rings loud and clear even now.

Historically Nelson Mandela is the 3rd person who comes to my mind when we talk of freedom of action & thought. This champion of Freedom, just like the other 2 we referred to above, spent a large part of his life in prison. Having been born in the Royal family of Thembu, trained as a lawyer, Mandela got into ANC early to oppose apartheid. He flirted with communism, was arrested many times for sedition. He negotiated an end to apartheid and paved the way to the first Multi Cultural General Election after which he served as the 1st President of South Africa in 1994. Mandela believed and professed that “Freedom is something that dies unless it is used” (Hunter Thompson). Under his government, South Africa made great strides in reconciliation between country’s multiple racial groups. Revenge was eschewed and people were free to profess & live with their differences. The secret to Happiness is Freedom. The secret to Freedom is Courage. Mandela taught this truth to a hurting nation.

So what does Freedom mean to me? Freedom is being what you are without having to seek anybody’s permission. Accepting yourself as you are. Accepting others as they are. And no one makes an effort to change the other. Let everyone be. Respect and encourage diversity. As Hans Christian Anderson taught us through the Fairy Tales we all loved and grew up with,” Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower”. Virginia Woolf says the same thing less romantically in A Room of One’s Own ,” Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind”

Take inspiration then from Independence, & be a Zealous Warrior to guard Freedom : vikas

Action Orientation

To Do or Not to Do? Should I? Can I? May I? Could I? To be? or Not to Be? The perpetual question!!!… whose answer keeps changing with the passage of time. “Yes, let me move forward”. “No let it be”. Hip Hop, On Off. Debate and Consternation: never translating into action.

Intellectually we all know smoking is bad. Liquor is harmful to health. Sweets are not good for a diabetic. Regular exercise is beneficial in the long term. Procrastination does not help. But all that knowledge…how often does that translate into action? so what is the gap here? Is this the famous Existentialism Dilemma propounded by Sartre? or is this the philosophy propounded by the Nihilists that life has no intrinsic meaning or value.. so why do anything at all? The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus lists 157 synonyms of “action”; still there are many we have met who shy away from all 157; they are content remaining in suspension, on the horns of the dilemma, never choosing any action & hence similar to mythical Trishanku remain perpetually hanging, between 2 worlds.

Inaction helps none. That is why Benjamin Franklin said, “Well done is better than well said”. There are many who speak well, the spin doctors & artists, but the world respects those who can act & not only talk. Modern management guru Simon Sinek puts it more graphically,” Words may inspire, but only action creates change.” Every new product we see, every new land discovered, every boundary crossed are all evidence that actions speak louder than words, and these actions are actually shaping & creating the world we live in. Merely knowing is never enough. We must act on the knowledge. And this action has the power to change you, change your surroundings & change your world. Inaction then is possibly the biggest mistake you can make.

So why do we not act? Why are we afraid? Do we lack the confidence that we will be able to overcome whatever challenges & difficulties that may come our way? are we so cocooned in our comfort zone that we do not want to see or venture outside? In the comfort zone there are no surprises, no stretch, no new experiences. But correspondingly there is no growth also. All “magic” happens out side the comfort zone. Only when you leave the Comfort Zone behind you, you will go into the Growth Zone.

Prizes are won by people who go onwards, leave the familiar & seek newer pastures. These are the mighty men & women who have done new drug discovery, found new continents, enlarged the frontiers of knowledge, innovated & invented all the products and services we take as normal today. They were able to do this and make the world a better place because they dared & acted on their dreams. Mary Angelou reassures all seekers,” The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place the new steps of change” On your part, you must TAKE ACTION. In the final analysis, the difference between those who dream & those who fulfill their dream is action.

Thomas Jefferson put it so well,” Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask, ACT!!! Action will delineate & define you”. All the leaders we respect, whether it be Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela or our own Gandhi; or modern business leaders like Bill Gates or Elon Musk or Azim Premji or Anand Mahindra or Kumarmangalam Birla or Gautam Adani : all have grown from strength to strength as they seized opportunities that came their way & acted with confidence and speed. They were well ahead in the race due to decisive action implemented with alacrity. Look at how Karsanbhai Patel of Nirma gave a run for their money to the well entrenched Unilever and its professional management. Our home grown brands like Oberoi and Taj are ranked with the world’s best hospitality chains because of their constant attention to acting on feedback and continuous improvement initiatives, rigorously implemented. Dare to Dream, the life story of Rai Bahadur MS Oberoi by Bachi Karkaria is a must read for anyone wanting to know the facts behind the rags to riches story. The daring steps & risky decisions that he took laid the foundation of a great business empire & brought up this first generation entrepreneur to the World’s Great list.

Underlining the importance of Action, long ago, another great master Carl Jung said,” You are what you do, not what you say you will do” That quote always reminds me of a school time riddle: there were 7 birds swinging on an electric wire. 4 of them thought they will fly away to a nearby tree. So how many birds are left on the electric wire? The correct answer is 7, as 4 only thought they would fly away. They thought, but did they? or Did not? Thinking is not action. And there if you ask me lies the main issue. We think a lot. But we do precious little. Thinking about a solution and acting on a solution are 2 very different things indeed.

So if we go back to our first question to Be or Not to Be, To Do or Not to Do, my unequivocal answer is Be, Do, Be Bold, Be decisive, Follow the heart and Kiss the World, as Subrato Bagchi says in his life story. The existential dilemma is often a fight between your heart and your head. There are always pros and cons. Somewhere there is always a doubt what would happen. But we must over-leap the doubt and ACT. Think, the future depends on what you do today. Do; don’t prevaricate, debate, or deliberate. The analysis phase should be quickly over & take the leap of faith remembering Martin Luther King’s famous sentence,” You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step” Act and the world will be at your feet. One step at a time!

Remember,” The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it”. These words of Karl Marx are also inscribed upon his grave!!

What more can be said on the power of action? Be a warrior: vikas

Parables & Stories from Vipassana (2)

Stories & Parables have been used by teachers since times immemorial to drive home their thoughts & increase learning. Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism….all have their stories. I heard some great ones, in the Vipassana Meditation course, I attended in April.; this is an attempt to share the stories with you for your learning & entertainment. This blog is Part 2 of the one I posted on 11/5/2022. Read, think, learn & enjoy.

5) Buddha once told that there are 4 types of people in the world: Type 1 are people who are in Darkness & they are running from there to Darkness. Type 2 are people in Light but they are running towards Darkness. Type 3 are people in Darkness, but are running towards Light. Finally the Type 4 are people who are in Light & they are running towards Light.

Obviously the Type 4 are the best hope for mankind as they know where they are, they are living their life well, & they will continue to be in Light. Type 1 are the worst off: they are in Darkness but they continue to hurtle towards Darkness.. These are shallow & foolish people who cannot pull themselves out of darkness/ignorance. They will blame Fate & Destiny. But they will not take charge of their situation & help and support each other to move ahead. Type 2 have lost their way. They were in Light but due to some external or own compulsions they are choosing to go towards Darkness. Not much good can be expected from them. Type 3 were in the Dark but have found their mistakes, are ready to change & are positively oriented to wards Light/knowledge/salvation. We need to analyze where we stand &, in the long run, move towards Light for the best outcomes for ourselves & the community.

My learning: First thing I need to understand where I stand & what is my future 0rientation. Next I need to use this to leverage and help myself & others to move towards Light.

#6) When Buddha’s influence started to spread, the entrenched priests & the religious system resented the fact that people were drawn to Buddha’s thinking & stopped the rituals & practices, which was their source of income & influence on the janata. They decided to hurt Buddha’s clean image, to wean the people away. A good looking girl was influenced to go into Buddha’s ashram every day. The girl would sleep under a tree at night, and in the morning go into the village with disheveled hair and crumpled clothes & tell stories about how she enjoyed the night in Buddha’s bed. This continued for a while. After a few months she tied some wooden sticks to her abdomen to create an impression of a pregnant woman, a big stomach carrying a child. Alongwith her instigators, all the Bramhins and religious henchmen, they marched into Buddha’s ashram: the girl accused Buddha of having slept with her & made her pregnant.

With a calm and equanimous mind, Buddha just smiled : he saw through the girl’s game. He did not defend himself against her diatribe. But just then a rat entered the girl’s sari & gnawed at the rope that held the sticks together on her stomach! The sticks got dislodged & fell to the ground, with a sound. The falsehood of the girl & her supporters was exposed.

My Learning: a clear conscience can never be shaken, as Truth is the strongest Defender of who you are.

#7) A devotee’s father died & was cremated with full Hindu rites & rituals. Thereafter the person came to Buddha and asked him to something special, some कर्म कांड, a ritual which would ensure a place in heaven for his father. Buddha told him to go to the market, get 2 earthen pots/मटका, fill one with Ghee, one with small stones, and meet him at the river side. The man rushed and got the 2 pots as instructed. Buddha asked the man to put the 2 pots in the water. Then Buddha asked the man to take his wooden staff & hit both pots hard, so that they break.

The one with Ghee..all the Ghee came out and started floating on the water. The stones and pebbles in the other one sank to the ground level under the water. Buddha then told the man how can we reverse this? how do we ensure the stones float? and the ghee sinks to the bottom? The man told Buddha that is impossible. Buddha explained to him, Similarly if your father had done good deeds in his life, he will naturally rise to Heaven. But if there are bad deeds in his past that would drag him down to hell.

My Learning: As you sow, so shall you reap. Past actions cast a long shadow into the future.

#8) A King and his Queen, regular practitioners of Vipassana, had built a meditation center where they meditated regularly. One morn, the King told the Queen, “I had a strange dream, that you are asking me, who is the person I love the most in this entire universe”. The Queen retorted,” that is really strange as I had a similar dream that you are asking me who is the person I love the most in the universe. So let me accept, when I thought about this question, I realized the person I love the most is myself” The King replied, “Interesting but in my dream I also told you that the person I love the most is myself!

They went to Buddha to ask him the interpretation of their dreams. Buddha complimented them and said: all veils have dropped away. You are left with the ultimate trust. Indeed each one of us loves oneself the most. But we try to hide & couch this. You are now so evolved that you are facing this directly.

My Learning: Face the Truth squarely without trying to hide anything. That way you are closest to Nirvana/Salvation.

#9) Another story of Mohammad : He used to daily follow a particular route to go to the masjid to pray, by a horse-cart. One of the ladies who lived en-route was anti Mohammad’s preaching. Every time Mohammad’s horse-cart went from the road in front of her house, she would climb to the first floor balcony & empty her garbage on the cart!! The garbage would fall on Mohammad & spoil his clothes. He used to take it in his stride, not react at all. He would go on to the masjid, clean his clothes & body, and then go & pray. This routine continued many times. And Mohammad’s response was the same: ignore the provocation & continue what he had set out to do.

One day, when Mohammad crossed that lady’s house no garbage came down on the cart or Mohammad. He asked the driver to stop the horse-cart, got down, walked into that lady’s house. He climbed up to the first floor and very solicitously enquired after her health. Mohammad said to her, सब खैरियत?? Is all well? I was surprised that no garbage has come on me today. I hope you are healthy and well. Is there anything I can do for you?. Mohammad’s behavior shamed the lady so much that she fell on Mohammad’s feet & asked forgiveness for her pettiness. Later she became a strong supporter of Mohammad.

My Learning: Rise above pettiness. Time will prove you right. Just be patient.

#10) A man came to Buddha and asked him,” You are so evolved. A great Master. So many come to your discourses. You guide all of them. So does everyone reach salvation?” Buddha counter questioned him, where are you from originally? Your language, body structure, clothes show that you are not from here in Shravasti” “No” said the man, “I am from Rampur”. So Buddha asked you must know the road to Rampur well? Yes of course was the man’s reply. So Buddha continued, whoever wants to go to go to Rampur must be coming to ask you for directions? Yes they do , said the man, I explain the whole road to them well. So once you explain, do the people immediately reach Rampur? No said the man, they have to travel, walk the path & take the effort and then they reach. The same is with me, said Buddha. I am a Teacher. I know the road to salvation. Merely having me as a Guide will not help. Every person must take efforts & walk the path himself to reach the destination.

My Learning: You can be shown the path, but it is your efforts that will take you forward. With all Buddha’s knowledge/प्रज्ञा, the only person Buddha can save & take to salvation is Buddha alone. I must take my own efforts. No one can save me, save & except myself.

All these stories & anecdotes are Guide Posts, Lighthouses that show us the path. Use them judiciously to direct your path. And be ready to take the effort yourself, to walk the road. For that there is no substitute!!

All the best for your journey : vikas

Parables & Stories from Vipassana

I went for my 4th Vipassana Meditation course in April 2022. What has always fascinated me is the oratory skill of SN Goenkaji & his ability to draw on stories, examples, parables from every religion under the sun, to drive home Vipassana concepts for his audience. Goenkaji does not want us to take anything on face value, on pure faith. He exhorts continuously that we must trust & believe ONLY our experience & sensory inputs. No ideological discussions, but only focus on your own experience. I had written in 2018 on what is vipassana and the underlying concepts. Those interested can check out the old blog at https://vikasshirodkar.blog/2018/11/07/vipassana/

Here I want to recollect some of the great stories & parables I heard which Goenkaji uses to elucidate his points & explain. So here goes:

#1) A rich man was enjoying his sumptuous lunch one day, when a Bhikshu came & cried out begging for alms. The rich man’s daughter-in-law, shouted from inside,” Maharaj, go elsewhere to beg. Here my father-in-law is himself eating stale/बासी food.” The Bhikshu went ahead, but the father-in-law was upset. He called his daughter-in-law and asked her “why did you say बासी भोजन/stale food? Here I am eating the choicest cuisine, rich with fruits & exotic vegetables, garnished with dry fruits. Why did you call it stale/बासी?”

The Daughter-in-law replied,” None of this is due to your own effort or earnings. You are eating off the earnings of your ancestors, you have contributed nothing. So is it not stale?”

My Learning: Have new thoughts and pull your own weight every day, Never live off past legacy.

#2) When Mohammad Paigamber started preaching, not everyone appreciated his teachings. Some were strongly opposed. One such person used to always disrupt Mohammad’s meetings & vitiate the atmosphere. Some of Mohammad’s followers used to feel very bad & they decided to confront the opponents to teach them a lesson. A meeting place was fixed. Soon the debate between the two sides turned acrimonious. When tempers rose further, it came down to physical fighting & a melee ensued.

Mohammad, seeing this, quietly left the place. His supporters sought him out later & asked why did he run away. Mohammad replied,” When the fight started, I saw the Farishtey/Angels flew away and left the room. Hence I too left!!”

My Learning: Peace and friendliness is godly; always stay on that side.

#3) An old woman once came to a Vipassana Camp set up in a rural environment. While coming, she got alongwith a cloth, draw-string bag/बटुवा. In that she was carrying 30 Rs her life’s earnings, an ornament/हार which she had got from her house & a small piece of sweetmeat/बरफी. One day, when she had gone for meditation, she found the bag/बटुवा missing from her residential quarter.

She became highly agitated & started crying loudly, beating her chest, moaning her loss. Others tried to control her & tell her she is disturbing others’ meditation but she was unconsolably crying out aloud. Every camp resident started searching high & low for the bag but it was nowhere to be found. She was wailing loudly about the loss of her money & ornament. So Goenkaji suggested taking a contribution from all. In place of her lost Rs 30, a total collection of 100 Rs was made and put before her. This was significantly more than her loss. But still she wailed & cried. “What about my ornament?” It was an heirloom, I was so attached to it” etc. The collected 100 Rs could have easily enabled her to buy a new ornament. But she continued to cry & repent her loss!

Finally someone saw that, a monkey on a nearby tree had the bag. Monkey had made of with it, seeing the colorful embroidery. The monkey had no use for the 30 Rs or the ornament. But it was merrily enjoying the sweetmeat/बरफी, sitting atop a tree. People chased the monkey with drums and sticks. Finally the monkey dropped the bag & made off with the sweet. The bag with money & ornament were returned to the old woman. Then only she stopped crying & focused on the vipassana teaching!!

My Learning: The concept of मैं/मेरा I & Mine is so deeply entrenched in us, that once it awakens, it does not allow us to look at anything else. Stay away from मैं/मेरा (I & Mine): many doors will open!

#4) There were 2 close friends: one was blind, the other handicapped. They used to beg for food & live together. One day the blind friend had a fever & could not walk. So the handicapped friend told him to rest & said he would go & beg for food & get some for his friend. While moving around the village, at one house, he was offered Kheer (sweet rice gruel). The guy had no utensil to take the kheer in, so he cupped his hands and the Kheer was poured in. He wanted to take the Kheer for his friend, but it started dripping from his cupped hands. So rather than waste it, he drank up the kheer. When he reached home he told his blind friend that he had got kheer, but could not carry it back for his friend since he had no utensil.

The blind friend had never eaten Kheer in his life and asked what is kheer? So the friend tried to explain ” It is white and sweet” The blind person knew what is sweet, but had no concept what is white. The friend told “White is like the crane” The blind friend had not seen a crane. So the friend caught a crane and gave it to the blind friend to feel & “see” what is a crane. The blind friend touched & felt the crane’s body & exclaimed ” I now understand. The kheer is twisted. तेरी खीर टेढ़ी है!!!”

My learning: Perception is important and if you do not perceive holistically, you may go on a total tangent & err terribly.

Trust you enjoyed these stories which have practical wisdom & learnings beyond compare. Next blog, I will tell you some more stories and parables from Vipassana course, which created deep learning for me

Bhavatu Savv Mangalam: vikibaba punter

Guilty, as charged!!

The Human Condition and Guilt are intricately enmeshed. Not a day goes by without regrets, a feeling that I should not have done what I did, & then agonizing over past deeds and their outcomes. While doing something makes one feel bad, sometimes we feel guilty without any act or commission. Thoughts, plans, emotions also take us on a guilt trip…how can I think like this? why am I planning to do this? how can I feel so negatively about that person? all of these are rabbit holes dragging us down in a negative spiral…and the omni-present guilt!!

Sounds familiar? Each one of us understands the truth of Gorky’s words as life goes on and we learn to introspect. Having lost our innocence, we soon experience Al-Rahbani’s wisdom as we continue to careen on the incessant treadmill we call life!! This goes back to Voltaire’s aphorism: Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains!! and do we feel happy? No we bristle against the chains & feel guilty in the process. दिल वो है कि फ़रियाद से लबरेज़ है हर वक़्त, हम वो हैं कि कुछ मुँह से निकलने नहीं देते|What could have been, always over-shadows what is in front of us; we perpetually chase a chimera, wallowing in guilt, & feeling miserable in the process.

अपने ही लाश का खुद मज़ार आदमी

And yet, feelings of guilt have their place: when you are contemplating a course of action that would hurt or harm. Going to War, Firing an employee, Insulting someone, Bullying & Bull-dozing ones’ POV, Cheating or misleading….all of these are classic examples of the acts that make us think about consequences & how history would judge us.

Guilt awakens and ripens in a social context. I am always concerned how others would see me, whether I would be “found out”. Guilt comes when you are not sure whether you did the right thing? whether you will be saddled with outcomes you had not bargained for?? Zig Ziglar puts it so well, ” With integrity, you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide. With integrity, you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt”. But breathes there a man who will always be on the side of Integrity & Correctness? We know that even Saints have a past. And it is when you pass the path of “brimstone and fire” you will rise anew: but for that, we must go through the deep valley of Guilt and atonement.

Possibly the dilemma & consequences of guilt & a wrong act are best captured in the anguish of Lady Macbeth. Having killed her King, she loses her sleep, dreams of her dastardly act, & keeps washing her hands to rid them of blood. Her guilt keeps the blood on her hands fresh & visible, leading to the famous words, ” Yet here’s a spot…Out, damned spot; out, I say… What, will these hands ne’er be clean? … Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” (Act V Scene 1). While Lady Macbeth feels guilty, think about Kansa who killed 6 children of Devaki immediately after they were born. Did he feel any guilt? Rather he felt righteous. Genghis Khan first tasted war when he was 9 years of age when his father was poisoned & he was held captive. His notoriety ever increased till he died 65 years of age. Nowhere is there any mention in history of remorse or regret for the barbarism that his armies unleashed & Genghis Khan himself led.

Guilt as an emotion has been around since the definition of good & bad, correct & wrong. The Biblical reference of Adam’s Fall from the Garden of Eden, the practice of Confession and Absolution all have an underlying logic of guilt. If you do not go to Church regularly, if you do not confess, you would burn in Hell: an euphemism for the pangs of Guilt which would rack & wreck you. But then, why go so far, to understand the all-pervading nature of guilt ?

Our mothers & wives keep us well aware of the power of guilt. ” Eat all that is on your plate, there are people who do not get 2 square meals a day!!” “Alcohol/Drinking is bad. If you continue like this you will bring ruin on to the entire family” “you have so many advantages that people do not have. When will you learn to value them?” Anyone who has been on a diet to reduce weight has felt the weight of guilt on his conscience. Why did I eat that sweet? Can I take a “cheat day” today instead of next week? Guilt keeps us guessing as we careen down the diet plan. Sometimes I feel Wives and Mothers are there just to tell us what we are doing wrong & what we need to atone for! If not at home, there is the boss at the office telling you, in full stereophonic sound, what you need to change & how. When he stops, our colleagues & peers take over driving the Guilt Train, explaining in great detail what we did wrong & how it has hurt them.

जाये तो जाये कहाँ समझे गI कौन यहाँ दर्द भरे दिल की जुबान

Is all this blame game totally objective? Am I really guilty as charged? Is there a lot of subjectivity at stake here and what if all my accusers were wrong? Is Justice ever Absolute? Are Guilty verdicts turned in by the Courts & Jury a true reflection of causality & consequent Guilt? If they are, why do we have Courts of Appeal? How often does the Higher Court over rule the judgement delivered by the lower court? If that is possible, what about a Higher, Higher Court to stand in judgment over the Lower Court’s decision of Guilt? Where does all this stop? I have very often wondered about the mindset of the condemned living out their last days on the “Death Row”. Do they feel guilty?

Do they repent what they did?? Did Ram feel bad about subjecting Sita to an “agni pariksha”? Did Sita regret crossing the “Laxman Resha”? Did Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Bormann, van Ribbentrop, Joseph Mengele ever feel guilty about the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust? The social context of Guilt gets exacerbated when we talk of the Holocaust, as even today Neo Nazi groups are ready to defend Hitler & the Nazis & even walk the path shown then!!

So who is Guilty? Who is not Guilty? Like most emotions and feelings…it is all in your mind! A Mussolini justifies inequalities. A Martin Luther King stands against it. A Gandhi gets freedom for a nation through non-violent Satyagraha. But does that make a Subhash Chandra Bose any less relevant? The sacrifices of Chaphekar Bandhu or Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev & Rajguru did not go in vain per Indians. But for the British? The revolutionaries felt no guilt on the noose. But, did Saunders regret his actions? Did the British rulers rue the Jallianwala Bagh? General Dyer was the toast of the British society when he was shot down by Sardar Udham Singh. Who bears the guilt? Britain became Great on the loot and plunder of Africa and Asia. But History has never shamed or blamed the British. It is said the Hunter will always be the hero, till the Lions learn to write their own stories. So indeed, Guilt is a construct, a concept, up for interpretation.

I go back to Shakespeare’s Macbeth to conclude:
“And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death… Life’s but a walking shadow… It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

So do not get waylaid dear friends by Guilt as you traverse this tortuous path. Learn to Let Go. Move forward and be ready to face the new sun with a smile on your face. Shrug off the negativity and guilt. It is just sound & fury, signifying nothing. Feel and Heal!!!

I will end by reminding you: Let It Go! Never let the past weigh you down. The lighter you travel, the faster will be your journey: vikas