Loife, they sez is sweet

Inspite of so many colors and hues… Black and White is considered classy. Inspite of being constantly surrounded by so many voices, words and sounds…Silence is considered as Ultimate. Inspite of so much variety to eat…Fasting is considered healthy. Inspite of so much to travel and explore…Meditating under the trees and near mountains is considered superior.  Inspite of so much to see…Closing one’s eyes and looking within is considered Epic. A recent WA message doing the rounds reminded me yet again of our peculiar human predicament…Man (or Woman, for that matter) is NEVER satisfied, never happy, never contented. There is always a stretch, a desire, a hunger for that elusive something…something more! The search never ends!!!!

favorite-drinkWhen my daughter Rashmi was in her teens and we used to travel together in the car both of us wanted to hear some nice music. The daughter would take control of the radio and start surfing. As soon as she hit a known song, I would go, “Wait , wait, that is a nice song”,  Rashmi would pause for a minute, or half, and then turn the dial to another station. Again the story would repeat. Unknown songs I was ok to pass. But in her model, even known songs were on for a minute at the most! Then the station would compulsorily be changed!!! This led to much angst from me, which was stone-walled with a “devil-may-care” response. I never understood and had many arguments with her in those car journeys. She remained unfazed. And when I sought the logic of why she kept changing the stations, she had a perfect logical rationale,”How do I know Baba which song is playing on the next station? It may be a better one. So I have to keep flipping and keep checking“. Only in retrospect I realised Rashmi is not alone….we are all searching for the next elusive one. The next one may be better!!!!

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In Marathi there is a saying which captures this mindset…..हातातलं सोडून पळत्या च्या  मागे  लागणे. This loosely transliterates as “the  bird in the bush is worth two in the hand”….hankering for what you do not have and under-valuing what you do possess. We see this regularly at the time of college admissions or entrance into professional colleges/ specialization streams. We all know many parents and students who tell you I have got admission in xyz college , but I am waiting for the abc college list. I have got Electrical in Somaiyya but I am waiting to see if I get Mechanical stream in Bhavans. And so it goes on. We who have worked in Corporate and have got frustrated with our roles and responsibilities at some time point. Soon you feel, there is no appreciation of your contributions and the hard work you put in. The boss is always to blame ….he is invariably a cross between Hitler and Gaddafi. So after much thought you applied for jobs outside our company, are again waiting to land the dream job….the job which would give exposure, freedom, excellent perks and benefits. As you seek your dream job and are appearing for interviews, inherent in the process itself is your becoming progressively convinced what a stupid company you are stuck in now, and what a dumb boss you have drawn. This brings you to a point where you just want OUT…and tell yourself anything would be better than remaining in the present job. Lo and Behold, you finally get an offer from one of the company you had applied to. As soon as the offer is in hand, you start having dissonance, regardless of the efforts you made in the interview/s to impress that you are THE BEST candidate they can consider. Having got the offer, you are already disillusioned and wonder about all the other interviews you have faced. Could the other one better? Lesser commute? Better team,? Much better facilities? Lovely Office. And the Boss also seemed a very decent chap in the interview. So you wait for the next offer. And then the next…

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Sounds familiar? It is very much like the apocryphal fishing joke, where the angler lands a huge trout…it gets measured…and he is awarded a First Prize for landing the Largest, Heaviest trout that season. The Angler’s response….” Well that one was big……but you should have seen the one that got away!!!!….” Remember, हातातलं सोडून पळत्या च्या  मागे  लागणे is our human condition. We forever believe “the  bird in the bush is worth two in the hand”. The chimeral “next”, the proverbial “one that got away” is always bigger, better, smarter. A la Wilkins Micawber, in David Copperfield, the iconic Charles Dickens’ novel, we are perpetually in a state of want. We desire much. We try and make ends meet. But satisfied we are NOT…..NEVER. we are always waiting with the belief “something will turn up” . And then, when the harsh realities of life set in, we are always over stretched….”Income 20 pounds….expenditure 20 pounds, ought {shillings} and six {pence}…..result, misery

This outward strtech, this desire to exceed and expand is captured best in this anecdote of Samuel Gompers, the longest serving President of the monolithic American Federation of Labor & Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), who put it brilliantly way back in 1920s what does AFL-CIO want. The national trade union federation was so large and so influential that President Woodrow Wilson himself was dealing with Sam Gompers to defuse a nation wide strike call. After a series of frustrating negotiation meetings where no common ground was emerging, President Wilson asked, “Sam finally, what is it that you want?” To which Sam Gompers made the now famous reply, “ More!”, he said, ” That is all that we want…in one word…More!!”. Does Sam’s reply not catch the predicament and mindset of all of us in all that we do? We always want more! We are never satisfied!! We are always chasing the bird in the bush, the fish that got away!

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Nevertheless i do not think it is all negative. Yes we search, we hunger, we are dissatisfied. But in that hunger, in that search there are some unique potentialities. When one door closes, another opens. And often if you follow through that new door, you mostly get what you have not bargained for….and it may be better than what you were seeking!! Only your eyes must be open. You should be ready to accept the turn of fate…the way the dice has rolled!! And be ready to face the new reality. Oftentimes that is better or at least as good as what you were hankering after. Only you should be ready to accept the changed circumstances.

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It is much like what Asha Bhosale sang in Umrao Jaan long ago, ”

जुस्तजू जिसकी थी उसको तो ना पाया हम ने

इस बहाने से मगर देख ली दुनिया हम ने” which translates as …. “We did not get what we wanted But with this excuse, we got to see the world ” So we need to keep our eyes and heart and head open and keep moving. There are many adventures and surprises out there.

I end with the words of Robert Frost in Kitty Hawk..”Mind you, we are mind.
We are not the kind
To stay too confined.”

 

Enjoy the journey…indeed, Life is sweet : vikas

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Challenges and Obstacles

As we go through life, challenges and obstacles keep raising their heads. This is par for the course. What happens after that is really determined by how you face, handle and overcome the challenges. Obstacles of the past can be the gateways to a new future. Facing a challenge on the road when you were cruising comfortably, enables you to think and rethink. What you temporarily consider as a block, can actually become a chance to rethink your options and choose a turn towards a new future… much really depends on your response and handling of the challenge.

Imagine you are making great speed and moving along well. And you are faced with a mountain. Little will be gained if you sit and curse!! It is much better to look at all the options that you have. You can climb over the mountain and go to the other side…and thus continue your journey. You can go around the mountain. Or like Manzhi, the Mountain Man, you can dig your way underneath the mountain. You can fly over the mountain, a la Lindberg. You can blow up the blockage. You can ignore the mountain and pretend it does not exist…an approach practiced by many around us?? You can turn around and head back home, the way you came. Or you can stay on the mountain and make it your home. Options are legion. Enid Blyton, the children’s author, gives great practical advice,” The best way to treat obstacles is to treat them like stepping stones. Laugh at them, tread on them, and let them lead you to something better”.

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Life is an adventure. If it is not that, it is nothing at all!!! Difficulties strengthen the mind. Know that finally a WIN is shaped in your mind. Do not dodge challenges. Be the kind of person who dares to face life’s challenges and overcomes them. Have the faith that “every set-back bears with it the seeds of a come-back” (Steve Maraboli: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience). Life throws challenges and obstacles. But every challenge has the seeds of a solution, if you will look long enough and close enough. Remember, a challenge becomes an obstacle or stumbling block only when you bow before it, and give up your efforts to overcome and upstage it. Sad would be the day when we give up, or become complacent and accepting the limitations that an obstacle  has posed before us.

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The lot for us humans is to strive, persevere and never give up.  The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who has done seminal work published in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience  puts it brilliantly: … the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.” To illustrate:  for a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. Remember, “For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”

Hence, what I am saying to you is :  There are no negatives. No impossibilities. There are only challenges. Challenges which will make you stronger and more capable as you tackle them. All that you have been through, all the efforts you have made, all the years you have lived till moment, all the roads you have taken…all have brought you to this wall. Accept the reality. Understand your situation. Acknowledge the challenge and the difficulty. But remain focussed on the outcomes, the end goal…and not on the obstacles ahead of you. Muhammad Ali, the Champion, cautions us…“Often it isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out, it’s the little pebble in your shoe.”  Unfortunately, this  causes bigger pain and difficulty. When you start living the life of your dreams, there will always be obstacles, doubts, difficulties, mistakes and setbacks along the way. But with hard work, perseverance and self-belief there is no limit to what you can achieve!! At the end, someone or something always gives up. It is either you give up and quit or the obstacle or failure gives up and makes way for your success to come through!!

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Am not saying for a moment that everything will be hunky-dory; downhill slopes all the way. There will be failures along the path. But Champions treat Failure as Feedback. They learn from every failed attempt, and recoup their energies and try something new to overcome the challenges before them. Failures are only telling us to try a different approach or a new solution to achieve your results. Sometimes you will run into brick walls. They will test you. Find a way around them and stay focused on your dream. Emblazon the fundamental truth TTT into your consciousness…Things Take Time!! Take solace in the the age-old adage: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Isabel Lopez encourages us: “If you can’t believe in miracles, then believe in yourself. When you want something bad enough, let that drive push you to make it happen.Finally, let this remain imprinted in your mind: If you quit on the process, you are quitting on the results!!!

Let me end with a favorite quote from Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” 

quotes on overcoming obstacles Fancy Quotes Over ing Obstacles New Over ing Challenges Quotes

When we least expect it, Life will set us a challenge. Understand that at such moments Life is testing our courage to face the challenges and obstacles. And in handling these difficulties, Life is also testing our willingness to change. We do not have the luxury of shutting our eyes and bury our heads in the sand. We will have to face the reality. We will have to overcome the challenge. And in the process we will have to be ready to change.

Learn. Be different. Take the teachings, that the Challenge has brought into our lives. And grow!!! Louisa May Alcott in The Little Women captures our human situation so beautifully, when she notes: “I’ve got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen.”

Wishing you Bon Voyage as you board your personal flight to freedom and change.

“Per aspera ad astra”(Through hardship to the stars): vikas.

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Gratitude begets

Grateful that my father-in-law introduced me to reading Maugham. What one of his character says, hit me very hard, and stays with me: “Oh, my dear boy, one mustn’t expect gratitude. It’s a thing that no one has a right to. After all, you do good because it gives you pleasure. It’s the purest form of happiness there is. To expect thanks for it is really asking too much. If you get it, well, it’s like a bonus … it’s grand, but you mustn’t look upon it as your due”.

In some ways, this was a part of my upbringing. My parents always taught that the opportunity to do good is it’s own reward. In school, we were told नेकी कर कुये में दाल (Do good and forget about it). Doing good is always a responsibility and a privilege. I have elsewhere written about the Zen monk, who on receiving a huge donation from the King, gave him an even more valuable lesson, “It is the Giver who should be grateful.”

Denali National Park in autumn, Alaska, USA, North America

Unfortunately the human condition is different. The normal experience we all have is…even the people who do very little, expect others to acknowledge and compliment. And if others have not recognized their contribution, people are unhappy!! The sheer & pure joy of having done a good deed is a fast passing fancy! Rather, it is as though unless others acknowledge and compliment, my good deed is not “complete”. And I will  somehow or other find a way to showcase my “good deed”, my action and point to others my nobility, in having gone down to the level of the hoi-polloi, and made them  benefactors of my munificence!! My endeavour is to prove that I am next only to God, as omniscient & as compassionate,  as giving & as forgiving, such that, really, people should hail the second coming of the Christ!!

Sounds familiar? In smaller or larger degree, we all carry this seed of thoughts and feelings. And always feel wronged…at being misunderstood, at being undervalued, at not getting our due!!! Superior to all others, we keep wondering when will they wake up to our greatness? when will they understand how wrong they are? when will they kowtow to the superior being who is amongst their midst?

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Again, the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves. What we need to do is just change our mindset, change the lens through which we look at the world…and it will flash upon that inward eye that I am the supplicant, I am the receiver, I am the beneficiary, I am in the debt of forces and people around me who are giving me this living experience. They contribute in innumerable ways to make my life and my living richer and fuller!! I should be grateful for all that I am receiving, and continue to get, day in and day out.

Albert Einstein captured this thought so beautifully: “A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the measure as I have received and am still receiving.” This quote disabuses my ego, and reminds me that without the contributions of others I am nothing. I get support from hundreds of others to enjoy the life as I do.  I stand on the shoulders of so many giants, people far better and more learned than me, who contribute to helping me understand my real situation. In front of all these, it is foolhardy for me to expect that others should thank me. Rather the fact to understand and learn quickly is, I must be grateful, I am the beggar, and my bowl is always over-full if I develop my eyes to see this. As the Hindi song goes: एहसान मेरे दिल पे तुम्हारा है दोस्तो , ये दिल तुम्हारे प्यार का मारा है दोस्तो.

GratitudeChangesEverything

Piglet in Winnie the Pooh by A A Milne showed us the way to be: “Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” Can we learn from Piglet?  As soon as we are able to see things and people around us with gratitude, the world around us blooms and blossoms. Recollect all the happy people in your life. You will see clearly that they are grateful. Grateful they are alive. Grateful they have another bright and shining day unfolding before them. Grateful for the very chance to be happy and alive. As they say, we can complain that rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice that thorns have roses!! Long long ago, Epicurus cautioned us:  “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”  Remember whatever your condition, what you have today, is the dream and aspiration of many others who are hoping they would reach your position/condition. Blessings have to be counted. Unfortunately our habit is to hunger for things one does not have. But once received, we quickly undervalue it and think this was only your due….and hunger now for something more, something different, something always beyond our grasp. Can we change gears and learn to be grateful instead?

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So start every day with a grateful heart. Grateful that you are alive. And look forward to the new day unfolding its’ gifts and treasures before you. Everything that happens in your life is an experience. See it positively and learn its’ teachings. The Greek philosopher Seneca obviously had a great insight, when he wrote:  “True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.” 

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Why go that far back. Our modern master Eckhart Tolle (A New Earth: Awakening to Life’s Purpose) reminds us an eternal truth: “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” We have it within us to be happy. To be happy, be grateful!! Gratitude. That is all we need to bring heaven on earth!! That is why Hindu scriptures always said: It is all within you. You hold the Keys of the Kingdom. Meister Eckhart had the last word on this: ” “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” 

 

पोटा पुरता पसा पाहिजे नको पिकाया पोळी देणाऱ्याचे हात हजारों दुबळी माझी झोळी                                         (I need just a handful of grains to fill my stomach, not पुरण पोळी. There are thousands of hands ready to give, but my alms-bag is too flimsy to hold all that I receive).

Thank you all for being in my life: vikas

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The Most Unforgettable Character I have ever met

Purushottam Waman Khandekar…. popular as PWK to one and all whose lives he touched…is no more. With a person like PWK मृत आत्मा को शांति मिले  need not be said at all!!!! Here was a soul so much in peace with himself and so wonderfully in sync with all his surroundings, people and environment, that he would certainly be in peace and joy!! This is my eulogy to the most unforgettable character I ever met in my life.

I was selected for a job in Siemens by him, when he was the Personnel Director in Siemens. Even in that selection, there was a Khandekar touch!!! All Section Heads in Personnel were internal promotees & career Siemensites. Some of them had picked up formal HR qualifications, while in the job, doing part-time studies. PWK wanted to bring about a radical change, in the way Personnel department thought and behaved !! And his approach was to recruit high caliber, young professionals from the best schools and introduce them as catalysts or petards under the chairs of the traditionalist Section heads. That was my entry into Siemens India, along with 2 other young turks from TISS and 2 from XLRI.

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Coming from IIMCal, of course, I had a chip on my shoulder; but soon I realised, whatever I had learnt outside, had to be foregone & I must sit at the feet of a practical master (PWK was actually called “मास्टर” in Siemens, in Marathi, which meant school teacher) and get qualified in the Khandekar Practical School of Management.  And after 36 years, I proclaim proudly that am a proud graduate of that school!!!

PWK began his life as a unionist: he was an office bearer of the Bombay Dock Workers’ Union. A major strike was called when he was a junior office bearer. Suddenly the authorities swooped down and arrested the labour leaders. Since he was inconsequential and too young, he was not arrested. And abruptly PWK found himself thrust into the leadership of a major strike. Never one to baulk down at challenges, PWK played the role thrust on him with elan, & skillfully led the tough nosed dock workers to a successful reconciliation. When the senior leaders came out of jail, they knew that a new star leader was born!!!

Restless to the core, PWK soon found new pastures for his intellectual desires. He leveraged his language proficiency and his communication skills, to land a job in British Council as a Labour analyst. Seeing his potential, BC sent him to England to meet unionists there. Besides the international exposure, PWK picked up a British life partner!!! He got married and had 2 daughters there. But his true-blood Indian roots brought him back to India. And he joined Siemens as an Editor for Siemens Sansar which was Siemens India’s internal magazine.

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PWK was a good artist and loved to paint nature. His was not the casual flirtation with the canvas. His oil paintings could easily have adorned the most rich and famous walls. Had he pursued this as a career, he could have given the likes of Padekar, Souza & Gaitonde some real tough competition. No formal meeting in Siemens was complete without PWK sitting and sketching in the Board Room. Seemingly totally absorbed in his sketching, head down, his ears were tuned to the proceedings. And whenever he was ready, he would interject with his most pithy and hard hitting comments; proving beyond doubt, that the sketching was only helping him concentrate and his sharp brain was absorbing all that went on, and could incisively enter in the discussions at his will.

Siemens in India has a huge debt to PWK. While an internal magazine Editor, Siemens factory saw an eruption of a violent strike and the management was at a loss to understand how to handle this. Comes a suggestion: here is PWK who has led a strike in the past, so he would certainly know what workers want and can talk to them in a different manner. This was how PWK got inducted into HR. Being an out and out people’s man, PWK took to this assignment like a fish to water and created a new history of congenial human relations for Siemens. Much later in late 70s, when Datta Samant made a violent bid for the leadership of the internal union, PWK again handled it in his characteristic decisive style. There was widespread violence:  in the plant, at the bus pickup points and at workers’ houses. Most managers were given police protection and were afraid for their life and limbs. And here was PWK moving around without fear. There were times when there was police protecting his house entrance door at Bandra, while the people who were supposed to be the perpetrators of violence (& Police was supposed to keep out of harm’s length) were inside PWK’s house, being served tea and biscuits in PWK’s living room and chatting up with PWK himself, rather than hurting him as Police feared!!! Such was the charisma of this वामन मूर्ति !!!

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During the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in 1975, PWK openly came out in protest. He was close to SM Joshi, George Fernandes and the likes. Mrunal Gore was actually arrested while hiding in PWK’s house. PWK was also arrested and put in jail for his anti-Establishment leanings. Those were the days when neighbors feigned ignorance and refused to recognise you as there was fear of being tarnished by the same brush, & be considered anti-Emergency. And here was PWK, a senior management executive, of a German MNC, in jail for harboring “public enemies” of the State. PWK felt he had no right to put Siemens India in jeopardy, for his personal political leanings. So our man penned his resignation from Siemens and sent it to the-then MD Mr Salge. At a time when relatives and neighbors crossed the road on seeing an anti-Emergency protestor, Salge actually went to meet PWK… in the jail!!! He tore up PWK’s resignation and said his job was waiting for him when he came out of the jail!!! Siemens actually promoted PWK to a Director position on his return!! For this one act, Siemens deserves  तहे दिल से सलाम !!!!!

PWK was the one who taught me to carry a pen and a pad whenever I attended a meeting. He would say: See, every engineer carries his calculator to the meeting. HR is the only guy who puts his hands in his pocket and enters any meeting. Be a professional, he guided us. PWK was the one who encouraged us to have an opinion about everything: and express it fearlessly. Remaining silent is the worst thing you can do in a meeting, he taught. PWK told us all: always keep your resignation in your pocket. And take positions in important matters, in a manner you can pull out the resignation and walk off anytime. Never, but never compromise your conscience was his teaching. PWK encouraged everyone to keep an updated CV in his top right hand drawer of the office table. And once in a while float your CV around and attend interviews outside, he averred. This helps in 2 ways, he taught: either you get a better paying job, you can leave and be happy OR you realise you can not get a better paying job, so better be happy where you are, put your head down and contribute!!!! Either way you are happy!!! Great advice which I have myself told many others later!!! PWK once told me : we managers have a future, but a worker only has a past. Learn to respect his past and work hard to create a new future for him!!!! A gyan I have tried my level best to live up to, and benefited greatly from. It was often said PWK comes to office to play chess. Yes all lunch breaks, all evenings, all Saturdays were spent playing chess. But along with playing chess, he gave decisions, discussed hard issues, debated politics, and mentored and monitored the workings of his department and his company!!!

The office corridors of Siemens reverberated with many legends re PWK’s brilliance and solution orientation. My personal favorite was from a Finance person who complained to me one day: “You know the problem with PWK? if you go to his room, he will ask you to take out a 50 paise coin from your pocket. He will then take it in his hand. And then in the next few minutes he will convince you it is one Rupee. You go out of his room, happily holding the new Rupee in your palm. Only when you reach home and try to tell your wife about the 1 Rupee, she sees the coin and and tells you, what PWK convinced you was wrong and it is indeed just 50 paise. Only then you remember PWK had taken the 50 p coin from your pocket, to begin with!!!”

Now that the शेंडी मास्टर has reached his final destination, I wish him as many friends, and as much joy out there, as he has left admirers and fan-boys back here. I for one look forward to moving on, and being in his benign presence again, enjoying his loud laugh and recounting his आख्यायिका.

Thanks PWK for teaching us the way to live: vikas

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Reality: Yours? or Mine??

In my 60+ years of living, 40 years of marriage and 35+ years of working there have been many thousand occasions when I have wondered whether the other person is listening? Am I making my point understood? Are we understanding one another? or are we seemingly together, but really on totally different planets?

Am sure you all have also experienced this sheer chasm…and wondered who is to blame? Am I not able to explain properly? or am I speaking to a blank wall? Communication, by definition, should enable transfer of meaning and sharing a common understanding. But actually, the mind maps and pictures of the speaker and the listener are so diverse that we might as well be sowing seeds in the wind. Even when we are going through a common experience together, your experience and mine, your reality and my reality are the proverbial East is East and West is West and Never shall the Twain meet!!!

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It is not by chance that Javed Akhtar wrote that beautiful song: ये तेरा घर ये मेरा घर, किसी को देखना हो गर, तो पहले आ के मांग ले, मेरी नज़र तेरी नज़र. I am always taken in by the irony: the movie is Saath Saath, so we are supposed to be together, and yet Deepti and Farooq realise that if anyone else has to see my reality (my house, in the lyrics) then they must give up their own नज़रिया , their own perspective, their own sight – if you will – and be willing to see with my eyes, my perspective, my नज़र.

In today’s times,  we all have our own weltanschauung, our own world view and … as the Bard says, “Ah!..Therein lies the rub!”. Can you identify 2 people or 2 groups or 2 communities or 2 countries who see eye to eye on everything? Do people have the same reality? Dr Raghuram Rajan resigns…media erupts with opinions and interpretations. Dr Urjit Patel is appointed…the same. Urjit Patel resigns…nothing different…millions of contradictory opinions… Mr Das takes over….even his graduation and post graduation specialization is up for scrutiny. History will bear me out, when Sir C D Deshmukh took over as the first Indian RBI Governor in 1943 there were enough detractors who questioned that appointment. Look elsewhere, you see more of the same.

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Is the Prophet’s birthday to be celebrated as a holiday and an Eid or not? You will get different answers if you ask a Sunni or you ask a Shia. Leave aside festivals, the fact that Shias and Sunnis have been at loggerheads for generations is because they do not share a common worldview. Lenin, Stalin and the Bolshevik Revolution.  Chairman Mao  and China’s Great Leap Forward campaign to aggressively move China from an agrarian society to an industrial one might have been driven by a positive vision of Mao for his countrymen. But how can we forget, it resulted in the biggest famine in history between 1948 and 1952, resulting in deaths of  20 to 45 million people. Even these numbers differ, depending on whose reality you trust?? All the Wars & the Crusades, Hitler’s genocide, today’s terrorist attacks are living examples of how everyone’s reality is different, and how far a human being is ready to go to champion and profess his own point of view. Against these backdrops, we must also acknowledge the Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings and Nelson Mandelas and Aung San Suu Kyis who drove a positive weltanschauung  for themselves and for their brethren being driven by their own  reality, marching to their own different tune. And yet all of them have been opposed in their times.

So I conclude that we all live in our own worlds, surrounded by our own realities. There   is precious little that we can share because we just do not share the same space, the same reality, the same worldview. And the classic thing is :  we are all Hitlers and Mussolinis and Steve Jobs and Jack Welchs  in our own right!! We believe our own “reality” and believe our “reality” is the best interpretation of the Absolute, (मेरी साडी तेरी साडी से सफ़ेद कैसे)  and all must follow our “reality” and those who don’t, well….!!!! Our efforts to convince others of the “real reality” (of course, our pet version) increases and that to me is the genesis of all the violence;  whether in thought or in acts, between individuals or teams, between groups or communities, between religions and countries.

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It would be good for all of us to understand quickly and then remember…. there is NO objective reality out there!!! We all are really like the famous five blind men who are trying to “see the elephant”. We all have our own different perspectives and small “pieces” of reality and have convinced ourselves that we know it all. But the fact is none of us have really an overview of the entire elephant…objective reality is much too larger for us to grasp. This would still be alright, were it not for the fact that we are too full of ourselves, too much in love with our own experience and too dismissive of the others’ perspective. and not sensitive enough to the others’ experiences and their own brand of “reality”.

lack of communication

I heard from SN Goenkaji an anecdote that helped me see this conundrum in a new manner and clarified many a confusion. Let me end by recounting this story. There are 2 friends – one blind and one lame – who would beg together to fill their stomachs. Comes a day when the blind beggar is very sick and cannot go out to the village with his lame friend to beg for their dinner. The lame friend moves around alone seeking alms. He is not lucky till he reaches the last house, where the lady tells him, she had made खीर ( sweet rice porridge) the earlier day and can give him the leftover. She asks him if he has any utensil to receive the खीर in? When the beggar says he has none, she asks him to make a bowl by cupping his hands together and pours the खीर into his cupped hands. The lame guy cannot carry the खीर in his hands back to his friend and so he eats it from his cupped hands and finishes it all. When he reaches back to his blind beggar friend, he confesses that he had only got खीर and since it was dripping out of his hands, he ate it all.

The blind man has never seen or eaten kheer before and so asks ” What is  खीर?” The lame friend replies it is white and sweet. “White? what is white?” Now how does the friend explain white to a blind man. Fortunately the man sees a swan fluttering around. He catches the swan and thrusts it in the hands of the blind friend and says, “this is white.. the kheer is like this”. The blind friend feels the curved back of the swan and gets a flash of brilliance, and says, ” Now I understand. तेरी खीर टेढ़ी है !!!!”

We all are alternately playing the role of the blind man and the lame. Unfortunately the lame is NOT leading the blind. Each is stuck to his own reality. And wonders why it is difficult for the other person to “see the obvious”!!!

The earlier you understand, तेरी खीर टेढ़ी है the better off we shall be: vikas

dreams-and-reality

 

Vipassana

Vipassana  विपश्यना  is एक विशेष तरीके से देखना

Vipassana, seeing things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was taught in India more than 2500 years ago as a universal remedy for all ills, an Art of Living!! Unfortunately, this knowledge disappeared for many centuries from India. SN Goenka learnt this technique in Burma, where it had survived in a pure form; and brought it back to India. It is now taught at various Vipassana centers all over the world.

This technique in the Theravada Buddhism tradition involves concentration on the body or its sensations, and the insight that this provides. In Vipassana , or insight meditation, the practitioner consciously explores the body and mind. The goal is to be साक्षी an observer with complete equanimity and stay away from being भोगी an indulgent participant, buffeted by your experiences. One works towards going beyond attachments and angst, for the final experience of Impermanence: understanding that all experiences, all attachments, all anger: finally, अनित्य है, नश्वर है !!!

Vipassana enables self-purification by self-observation. One begins by observing the natural breath to concentrate the mind (आनापान meditation). Then, with sharpened awareness, one proceeds to observe the changing nature of body and mind and experiences the universal truths of impermanence, suffering and egolessness. This truth-realization by direct experience results in mental purification.

I went for a 10 days’ retreat to Igatpuri to learn and practice Vipassana meditation. During these 10 days, the meditator must observe आर्य मौन Noble Silence: no communication at all with anyone. No talk, no phones, no gestures or expressions at all: total withdrawal from all things external. You try & establish a deep rapport with what is happening inside you : observe, meditate, reflect, think!! You wake up at 4 am and are up till 930 pm: in this 12 hours are earmarked for meditation and 5 hours are intermittent breaks for daily ablutions, washing, eating, and walking exercise, if you so desire. Tough and serious work. Intense concentration. Introspection. Plumbing the innermost depths. All in grand isolation.

Many friends questioned me & pinched me to write about my Vipassana experience. I was very, very hesitant. Vipassana is so  experiential that I really wondered how will I be able to explain someone, who has not been through that experience, as to how I felt!! Imagine meeting someone who has never eaten a mango in his life. He asks you to describe : how does a mango taste? Can you explain that in words? will he ever get what you are trying to convey? You can describe the color, smell , look, size: all external parameters. But the flavor, the taste? To understand that, your friend has to eat the mango himself!!! Nevertheless, I will attempt here to describe some of the external dimensions which really impressed me.

giri

As administrators, the Vipassana Dhammagiri, Igatpuri folks take the cake. You need to register online. The confirmation comes to you in mail. When your reach the venue, accommodation allocation happens effortlessly. And that evening there is a precourse talk, just to make you aware of the timings and locations and then the course starts. Someone in this batch asked how will we know what to do when. The answer was disarmingly simple: “When the bell rings, if you are in your room: go to the Dhamma hall (Meditation Hall). If you are in the Dhamma hall, go to your room. That is all!!!”

Simplicity and frugality typifies it all. Residential areas are functional but complete. Water Coolers and Toilets are provided all over the campus. Dining area is clean and well maintained. In silence you go in a que: there are clean thalis and spoons, food is spread out, you help yourself. The food was simple but tasty. Not once was anything inadequate or not available on time. Seamless administration!!

Every meditation session begins with an audio recording of Goenkaji, where he instructs what we have to do today. And then the rest of the day you sit & practice what has been told. If there are queries you can reach out to the live teacher during the breaks. All other times you practice what was instructed. In the evening, the last session is a video recorded lecture of Goenka where he takes stock of what we did today, what are the bases for it, and what will we do tomorrow. In these sessions, I realized they have brought down the meditation technique to a matter of science; with perfect  timelines and predictability. That is why Goenka is able to speak specifically to the 3rd day experience, 5th day experience and what are you going through on 7th day etc. Human experience is indeed common!!!

Goenkaji is an amazing speaker. He brings to life even a dry and dull subject like Dhamma or Religion. He talks of Shuddha Dharma, something which is much more fundamental to the human condition, beyond any of the isms like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity or Islam. Using simple day to day examples Goenka builds on his theme of Shuddha Dharma and exhorts you to give it a try. He quotes from nearly every religion and every major saint to support his thesis of the universality of pure Dharma.

Per Goenkaji, Dharma is like the universal laws of nature: applicable to all, without exception. Pure knowledge. Not theory nor intellectual argumentation;  ना वाणी विलास, ना बुद्धि विलास, just experiential knowledge प्रज्ञा. Beyond all the religions and isms is this प्रज्ञा Pragya which is nothing other than प्रत्यक्ष ज्ञान something which you experience.  I will illustrate this with an example from Goenkaji’s own discourse. 

Knowledge can be of 3 types: श्रुत प्रज्ञा Shrut Pragya; चिंतन प्रज्ञा Chintan Pragya & भाविक प्रज्ञा Bhavik Pragya. Shrut is what is reported, what you have heard. Chintan is what you understand intellectually. Bhavik is what you learn by experience. Think of a person who hears of a new restaurant which reportedly gives excellent food. He reaches that place and sees the menu card which describes all types of exotic dishes. All this is Shrut Pragya. He then looks around and sees others eating with great gusto. Smells the lovely flavours. Sees the expressions of satisfaction on others’ faces. So he feels this is indeed a good restaurant. This is Chintan Pragya. But when he orders the food, gets it delivered to his table, samples it, and experiences himself that indeed the food is very good: that is Bhavik Pragya. Vipassana invites you to the journey of Bhavik Pragya. For sure it will change your life, the way you think!!

Before leaving for Vipassana, I had written a piece Does God Exist? The answer I got after my Vipassana course is that Yes God-lihood exists…within you. The Good Book tells us: Seek and you shall Find.  Kabir says ‘तेरा साईं तुज्झ में, जागि सकै तो जाग।” What you seek is within you, you need to bring it forth.

Do not be like the person Kabir describes: जिन खोजा तिन पाइया, गहरे पानी पैठ,
                                                                              मैं बपुरा बूडन डरा, रहा किनारे बैठ।

So eat the mango yourself, and experience the taste: vikas

Explore:      http://www.giri.dhamma.org/

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Does God Exist?

You are reading the blog of a confessed agnostic. But life has taught me to remain silent about matters of the faith. I do not champion any point of view and keep my own counsel when these matters are discussed. But I was not always like this…

Earlier I was a vocal atheist. I felt it was my bounden duty to show the “right” path to my misguided and “blind” brethren. I would challenge and argue, try to convince by logic : in matters of the heart!! Needless to say, a la the Bard, it resulted in “much sound and fury, signifying nothing”. I do not think I managed to convince and change the heart of a single believer! Rather they showered pity on me: I was a misdirected soul for them!!!

Earlier than that, like all others, I was a Believer once. Those were the growing up days, when whatever your parents/elders said, and what you saw all around you – the social espoused reality – was the way to be. Then in the growing up phase, one questioned everything, challenged all things and then decided to bury God, Faith, Religion …whatever did not stand to empirical proof was a no no; scientific temper ruled!! One attended the lectures of Jiddu Krishnamurti in JJ School’ sylvan premises, and bought & devoured his books. Though one understood nothing else, one phrase caught on…“Let us question…”. So alongwith JK we intellectualised, debated, and with JK tried to “go deeper to understand and see it clearly” and found no proof of God !!!

question

Then the phase of rabid atheism where one took joy in asking awkward and difficult questions. And though the Believers did not squirm or go red under the collar, we still felt morally and intellectually superior after every argument. So then what made me go silent? why did I stop arguing on matters of faith?

I went through 2 experiences which showed me how shallow and foolish I was. I understood that I know so very little that I must remain silent, rather than open my mouth, & prove to the world what a complete idiot I was.

As I plan to go for 10 days Vipassana course from today, I am again accosted with the question: how come a guy like you wants to do a meditation course? Is this really your cup of tea? What do you expect to get out of this? These questions made me go back to those 2 “moments of truth” in my life, which gave me a feeling that I understand very little in this space.

The first of these Faith Moments of Deep Learning was when 2 colleagues from Johnson & Johnson took me, forcibly, to Tirupati. They were avid believers and felt if I am in the presence of Balaji, I could not but be impressed. Most reluctantly I reached there, went to the  330 am Kakad Aarti. And when the doors opened, and we went into the sanctum sanctorum, the presence and the vibrations in the inner room were so strong that I felt something very different. Try as I could , I could not look into the eyes of the idol. The peace and solace I felt, was totally out of the world! I never wanted to go out from there!! Fortunately our “guide” told us we could stay back between the 3 aarti darshan tickets he had bought. So literally from 330 to 9 am we were in the Holy Presence. In between, the doors would open & shut, and some people went out and another group come in. But I was totally lost to the world, for the entire duration. I have never felt that comfort and joy I felt there. Even when we finally came out, I was a zombie: not knowing what was happening around me. I felt like someone had entered me and expanded me so much that I was striding the entire world!!!!

reaching

The second Faith Moment was in Shirdi in Saibaba Sansthan. Here we took the darshan and then were taken to an ante-chamber. There was a bed against the wall and a black & white lithograph of Saibaba standing under a tree looking straight at you. Looking straight into your soul. Apparently Baba slept on that bed. Though there was a sofa opposite, I felt like squatting on the ground. Again the vibrations in the room were so strong, that I was totally shaken up. I felt I was being buffeted by sea waves; I was riding the winds. I truly felt omni-present and withdrawn from my body & my physical limits and felt that I was enmeshed, one with the entire universe. What a powerful feeling! I just shut my eyes and floated….

Both these experiences taught me that my knowledge, my brain & my body was severely limited. There are many things beyond me. I do not understand so many things. And so why argue or reject?? Just say I do not know and keep quiet. Absorb and feel; rather than analyze and understand.

J Krishnamurti had said: “Belief has no place where truth is concerned.” I realised these are non-overlapping circles, and each stands glorious in its own space. More recently Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev observed; “If you believe there is God or if you believe there is no God, you are both in the same boat : you believe something that you do not know!”

fun guy

We know MK Gandhi often took recourse to fasts to solve issues. Once Nehru asked him, “how will your fasting help? There is serious rioting going on and how do you think your fasting will help?” Gandhi’s reply was करके देखो” “Do it yourself and see the result” 

My advice to those who question me for Vipassana is the same: करके देखो. There is no way I can explain what one goes through, the feelings and the experiences one gets…करके देखो!!! The 10 days of Arya Maun or Noble Silence purifies you. Takes you to a place where there is no negativity, no angst, no jealousy, no ill-will. Pure brotherhood. Joy. Sheer heaven on earth!

Rather than belief, I am with Sadhguru who says “If you say I do not know, the longing to know will arise within you; if the longing arises , the seeking will arise; and if the seeking arises, the possibility of knowing exists.” Be open to that possibility. Vipassana will certainly create that opportunity for me…

As Vipassana’s teacher SN Goenkaji puts it “Bhavatu Savva Mangalam!” : May all beings be happy. To which dear readers you can reply with me: “साधु साधु साधु “. So be it!! Let all be happy. 

Bless me that I may have the longing and seeking: vikas

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Heartbreaks…they go on…

Last I wrote on how skinned knees are easier to cure than broken hearts. I got some shocked reader feedback….how can I bare all about my broken heart on a public platform??… is it not too personal a story??…etc etc

Till people read my examples and understood that am talking of intense disappointments and let downs…whether done to me …or done by me…and then got what i mean by heartbreaks. It was not a bare all, no holds barred story of unrequited love confessions a la Hollywood style, but rather the day to day jolts and falls we all go through.

Am reminded of the famous Sardarji joke. Santa slips and falls off a banana peel one day. The very next day when he sees another banana peel lying on the road, he curses aloud,“धत्त तेरी की!!! आज फिर गिरना पड़ेगा!!” (Oh Heck no!!!! Now today I will have to fall again!!!!)  

Life is all about facing disappointments and pain, and carrying on despite it all! Napoleon had remarked that there is no brave soldier…one who is not scared…all soldiers are scared in the throes of battle…but a good soldier is one who is scared and still retains his ability to fight and follow his orders. Life’s battles continue to prepare us to be better soldiers…one who retains the ability to fight back and continue despite all the setbacks, the knives in our backs, the large let downs, the broken expectations and the unfaithfulness of our friends. Sara Teasdale (The Collected Poems)  put it ,well,“It is strange how often a heart must be broken/ Before the years can make it wise.”

heartbreak

I, for one, tried to follow other smart people’s advice and suffered the same fate as Agatha Christie who noted: “Everybody said, “Follow your heart”. I did, it got broken”. Or see the immortal love queen Marilyn Monroe’s famous musings:  “This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends – they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, some go… As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go too. And baby, I hate to say it, most of them – actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up…” Rather, I have reconciled with the view that the heart was meant to be broken and the road to true happiness is paved with many sad events, disappointments and longings.

The present crisis in my heart’s journey is seeing my daughter off… as she goes abroad for further studies! The feeling that she will not be around daily is disconcerting and disturbing. That she will be alone in a foreign land, fighting her own battles, resolving her own issues and far, far away from my watchful eye is heart rending. But alongside this feeling is the basic question: am I unhappy because she will be away? or am I more disturbed by the fact that she may actually not miss me at all? She has a new life opening up before her. So will I be redundant in her life? The dilemma is similar to that of any father at the time of marriage of his daughter…while he wants her to be happy in the new household that she is going to be a part of…there is also a sadness and grief of the emerging gap in your own life, your own family, your house, your own heart…. Mineko Iwasaki knew his stuff when he observed: “Stab the body and it heals, but injure the heart and the wound lasts a lifetime.” 

knew what

All of us who have loved and lost know: Once you had put the pieces back together, even though you may look intact, you were never quite the same as you had been before the fall. Augusta Webster sings of this state ” we two shall still meet day by day,
But never more shall heart respond to heart.
Two stranger boats can drift down one tide,
Two branches on one stem grow green apart.
Farewell, I say.”

Farewell. God Speed. All the Best. I for one aver and understand: we must open our hearts and be ready for the fall. Know our heart will break, but expose it anyways. To complete Marilyn Monroe’s earlier quote: “…Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.” 

So to my daughter and all those who regularly and routinely break my heart, to my sisters, brothers, friends and lovers, to all my well wishers and ill wishers, I say what Augustus Waters tells  his lover Hazel in the Hollywood blockbuster The Fault in Our Stars: “It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you”.

ways to die

The quintessential philosopher of today’s nihilistic times Albert Camus has the last word on this: “It is necessary to fall in love – the better to provide an alibi for all the despair we are going to feel anyway.” This appeals to my misanthrope heart and mind. But for you, my dear positive readers, I end with our favorite ABBA

Chiquitita, you and I know
How the heartaches come and they go and the scars they’re leaving
You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end
You will have no time for grieving
Chiquitita, you and I cry
But the sun is still in the sky and shining above you
Let me hear you sing once more like you did before
Sing a new song, Chiquitita
Try once more like you did before
Sing a new song, Chiquitita

 

So dear daughter,and all my heart breakers, I end echoing Nayirrah Waheed:              “you                                                                                                                                                      not wanting me
was
the beginning of me
wanting myself
thank you” : vikibaba

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Skinned Knees, Broken Hearts

Sometimes I wish I were a little kid again!  Skinned knees are easier to fix than broken hearts!!!

It is still raining in Mumbai;  and on my daily morning walk, I managed to slip/slide/glide over a largish speed breaker and found myself descending to the road surface, with great speed! There was nothing I could do in the seconds that intervened, between my insight that I was falling, and my landing unceremoniously on the wet street, face down!! During the fall, I had bent forward, landing hard on my left knee, which slid down the bump. The first thought was that this will result in a bruised knee and shin: which will pain for days. Curiously the second thought was : this pain and hurt will be much better to bear than a broken heart!!

knee

Being 62 years of age, one has had ones’ fair share of falls,  and broken hearts!!! Lives there a man who has had a charmed existence, happiness and success always, and nary a broken heart? I doubt it very much! Expectations and desires (despite the Learned Buddha’s exhortation to avoid them) are a part of our make-up and human story/history. And so breathes there a soul who has not experienced the pain of a broken heart?

This sharp pain of a broken heart begins early in our lives. As kids, it is the refusal by our parents to buy the new toy we have taken fancy to. Why, it may even be our Mother’s refusal to take us with her, when she is all decked up and leaving for a formal dinner. My heart also broke when my elder sister refused to take me in her playgroup as I was too small, and worse, I was a boy! The first unrequited crush on the English teacher. The fair girl in class whom I dared not speak to! My new cycle involved in an accident; with me tearfully looking at the mangled frame. My father’s job transfers which made me say Good-bye to friends made with great difficulty. Losing my first Chinese ink pen. A friend refusing to trade the WWF picture card, that he already had a duplicate of !!!! How many times has the heart broken? How many times one suffered the ignominy of “defeat”, of missing something that your heart desired and wanted so badly?? It was a sweet time of grieving- your heart was broken, but your life was changing. Many times you counselled yourself: “It is ok Vikas, life will be different when you grow up! You don’t have to depend on others. You can take decisions yourself. You can get (or take) what you want”!!!

1broken-heart

Then you grew up. And then the heartbreaks continued. Unstoppable, the heartbreaks were now more severe. Took longer to get over. The young roly-poly Bengali History teacher whom everyone in class had a massive crush on. Not getting admission in the academic course you had set your heart on. And to make it worse, your friend securing admission and he and his family consoling you, “Surprising how Raghavan got in? You were always better in class and we always expected you will walk in with flying colors. So sad you did not get through” Adding insult to injury; breaking, nay crushing your heart even more. Not getting a job offer from your dream company on campus. Being turned down for promotion. First time you get an average performance rating when you believe you have excelled in all projects that year. Your BFF letting you down. Girl issues. Boys’ issues. Heartbreaks galore. Making the logical you, ask a fundamental question: What is stronger than the human heart, that shatters over and over again, and still lives?

Zelda and F Scott Fitzgerald, illustrious litterateurs,  had a most tumultuous marriage. Their very public confrontations were full of accusations, cheating, nervous breakdowns all fuelled by generous dollops of alcohol. Zelda observes ” No one has ever measured, not even poets, how much a heart can hold”. When F Scott died, they were estranged. Another brilliant author, Oscar Wilde was in love with Lord Alfred Douglas. In 1891, this was looked at in askance and Douglas’s father disapproved of his son’s liaison. Oscar was accused of acts of gross indecency and convicted for homosexuality. Wilde concludes in one sentence, “The heart was made to be broken”.

In Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk has a great insight to share:“The one you love and the one who loves you are never the same person”. But how many of us understand this fundamental truth? Rather we are enamoured, star-struck, infatuated; sometimes with the very concept of love. Edgar Allan Poe captures this well, “We loved with a love that was more than love”. In India we are all brought up on the Bollywood version of all sacrificing love, which stands tall when all around is crumbling, and is still able to belt out a heartfelt Laila Majnu or Heer Ranjha song. What we ignore is that the line after तेरा मेरा प्यार अमर is the earthy  फिर क्यों मुझको लगता है डर? The English poetess Emily Dickinson who never married or had children summed it up, “If I can stop one heart from bleeding, I shall not have lived in vain.” 

Confessions.jpg

In The Wizard of Oz, young Dorothy gives great advice to Tin Woodman, “I think you are wrong to want a heart. It makes most people unhappy. If you only knew it, you are in luck not to have a heart.” Is it hard to let go? Would you rather hold on to something that was not real anyway? No matter how bad your heart is broken, the world does not stop for your grief – it moves on, and expects you to move and play your part down the road. In the hoary Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet B Stowe puts it so well,” Of course, in a novel, people’s hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it; and in a story this is very convenient. But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us.” Look back on your own life, all the heartbreaks you experienced over the years, only made you wiser, taught you life, showed you how to live. Remember Nicholas Spark, “The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it…”

So let us sing alongwith Jaidan Taylor:

Cause, baby, I could build a castle/Out of all the bricks they threw at me/And every day is like a battle/But every night with us is like a dream

Baby, we’re the new romantics/Come on, come along with me/Heart break is the national anthem/We sing it proudly

Concluding with Violeta Parra: “Don’t cry when the sun is gone, because the tears won’t let you see the stars.” : vikas

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The itch to blame

The itch to blame and tame is with all of us….yours truly,  leading the pack! You decide whether you are guilty, by your own reckoning :  & then decide whether it is worth reading this blog OR you would prefer to skip it!!! I will not blame you….as this introspection has taught me a lot….

The blame game starts because one feels helpless, frustrated and ineffective. Rather than take responsibility for your situation and own the consequences, you find it easier to blame the circumstances, the situation, others involved, even luck or destiny, family or karma….but always something external, which has caused this outcome. You, of course, are blame-free and above it all. Which explains why Douglas Coupland observed “Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of the chaos”.  Very often, we need to take a hard look at our preparation, our efforts. But we are comfortable finding a peg to hang our failure on. As our own local saying has it “नाच ना आवे आंगन टेढ़ा”.

Yogi Berra the iconic baseball player captured this attitude well when he said “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I just blame the bat, and if it keeps up, I just change the bat. After all….how can I be mad at myself?” And this happens to the best of us. We all would do much better if we learnt to not spend time finding others to blame. We put in too much energy in finding excuses for not becoming what we are capable of being. Our approach should rather be to grow out of our past and get on with our lives, by putting our energy  and our own self on the line.

blame-and-shame-game

My favorite poet Rainer Maria Rilke puts it so well “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty”. What a thought!!! For the Creator, there is NO POVERTY. You are limited by your own imagination and your effort.  So should we not keep the itch to blame in reins?

One more aspect of the blame game is true since times immemorial. Aeschylus the first great Athenian dramatist observed in 5th Century BC “Everyone is quick to blame the alien”.  We all draw such a close circle around oneself, our own way of thinking, our favorite theories and even our pet peeves that anything which is different is “alien”. And we are quick to blame, reject, question, doubt, ridicule and run down whatever does not conform to my worldview. We refuse to respect diversity and we are not intellectually honest to accept that “I do not know it all” : the other person’s POV may be different; but it could also be right. In fact social reality is multi dimensional and just because I see things in a particular way, does not mean that is the “right” way. Others can, and do, view things very, very differently.

blamemyself

This perspective is especially critical to remember when there is a power differential between the two parties. Otherwise the blame game can easily deteriorate into the “tame” game. Recollect our childhood Aesop fable about the Big Bad Wolf who blamed the Cute Little Lamb for polluting his drinking water in the flowing brook. When the Lamb tried to protest that he was downstream,  and Wolf was at a higher level and so how could the Lamb pollute the water? the Wolf’s famous reply was ” Well if not you, then it was your ancestors who muddied the drinking water” And so the Lamb is still to blame  and will be eaten by the Wolf to teach a lesson. Any excuse will serve a tyrant, as Hitler proved to millions of Jews during the Holocaust. Blame game often ends with a overpowering desire to tame the opposing point of view. Why Hitler? let us remember our own bosses. And we will easily see that the itch to blame and tame is omnipresent. Even in family, my daughter thinks the same about me.

Yet truly, if you see life in it’s full-blown glory, you will see also it’s rich diversity. In India there are sharp contrast between the haves and the have-nots. So while we have the richest private residence in the world Antilia which is valued at USD 1,000,000,000, we also have 62% of Mumbai’s population living in slums as per HT report (9/8/2018). There are stark differences in lifestyles of the people of Mumbai but somehow we have mastered the art of peaceful coexistence. We do not question the propriety of either a USD 1 Billion home or the fact that compared to the 1991 Census there is a staggering increase of 50% in the population of slum dwellers. The beauty of our pluralistic society is seen in the fact that the street children are happy, while our rich, nouveau rich and middle class children are unhappy, stressed and hassled. In the rainy season I truly admire the resilience of the street urchins who are gleefully enjoying the rain. While the kids who are bundled in cars or school buses fret and scowl!!! Fortunately, we have not yet gone down the Kenyan and Nigerian path, and there is still no strident blaming one another or forcible taming of the other side.

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The cartoon above says it all: we must learn to cope and ignore. Rumi puts it so well : The art of knowing is knowing what to ignore. Wish I had got this advice much earlier in life. Blaming and efforts of taming would have been much less. Recently I came across something interesting about sunflowers. We all know that sunflowers follow the direction of the sun and turn to face the Sun. But what happens when it is raining? and there is no Sun? Apparently sunflowers turn to one another and bask in the reflected energy and positivity of one another. How beautiful would it be if we humans learn this skill from sunflowers; and rather than rue the absence of the Sun, take joy and energy from the glory which is all around you; get energized from one another. Overcome the itch to blame, shame and tame. Rather revel in the people and energy around you. Remember Creation knows no Poverty. You need to ask for the riches. Ask and it shall be given!!!!

I close with memories of a beautiful abhang of Tukaram: लई नाही लई नाही मागणे देवा Here Tukaram beseeches Lord Pandurang to give him just enough cloth to cover his body; just enough food to fill his and his guests’ stomach; but continuous blessings of the Lord…he wants nothing more. All blame vanishes, as sunflower-like I turn to all, in a most positive way. The only taming I do is of my own self.

Live life; Love life: vikas

yourlife