No, Not New

Let me confess at the outset that this is an iconoclastic post. I mean, but really, what is NEW about 2020? It is just another year, no?? and how will it be HAPPY I wonder? By wishing? Please…I have seen more of life to believe that!!! So I say again, No, there is NOTHING NEW in 2020. And to make it HAPPY my friend, we have work to do. Mere wishes will not help. Nor the implicit belief in what Lord Tennyson wrote ages ago: “Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”                                                               Don’t know about you all, but I have had it with the sugar syrupy, cloying New Year messages. Enough already!! Let us get on with our living!!!going on

Really, think what is New about 2020? Yes, the date changes. Possibly will lead to errors on important documents and cheque leaves being torn up, as you can’t make corrections. Besides the date change, does the life not go on as usual? So why the hype? Whenever I hear a cheery, Happy New Year, I am reminded of the stand up comic who quipped….Have told so many friends, “Happy 2020…don’t worry, the next year will be so much better than the earlier years”; I love misguiding people!!

Actually, as thinking adults, we should remember that the future is built on the past. Every new beginning, to be rock-solid, must be built on the fragments of the past. The remnants of our experiences will create the strong anchor for our uncertain future. I, for one, believe that the new year should never be based on the abandonment of the past. Child is the Father of Man, Wordsworth told us long ago. In a similar vein, our future must be rooted in our past. What we have done and achieved in 2019 and earlier, should speak to what we plan for 2020. That is why the Turkish playwright, Mehmet Murat ildan tells us, “In the New Year, never forget to thank to your past years because they enabled you to reach today! Without the stairs of the past, you cannot arrive at the future!”

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Yes I agree that the unknown future is full of potentialities and possibilities. Every Hero journeys from the Known to the Unknown. To that extent, the New Year promises potentiality unlimited….it is always brighter at the horizon and the unfulfilled promises beckon to us from yonder. The Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837)  captures it well in his Operette Morali (Small Moral Works) thus,  “Life which is beautiful is not the life that is known, but that which is not known; not the past life, but the future. With the new year, chance will begin to treat you and me and all the others well, and the happy life will begin. Non e vero?” Is it not true? (Translation using Google)

So come January, and the turn of the year, we are overwhelmed. Excited with the chance to turn over a new leaf. Do things differently. Feel that this new threshold will take us into a new trajectory, where magically the world will be congenial,  and life will be much better. But the fact is that we cannot see into the future, we cannot predict how it will treat us, where will be at the end of 2020. Only thing we can be certain is that we will again wish at the end….2021 will be Happy New Year!!!

anatole-france-new-years-quote

As we go through life, many things are thrown our way. Challenges, Achievements, Failures. We need to make our way through all of these. How you deal with both your successes, and your failures, shows your real character. None of us is born with the Magic Key, or possesses the Silver Bullet, to solve all problems & come out always successful. Life forever presents a mixed bag of results and disappointments. The true Hero does not get vibrated or vitiated from his path, come what may. S/he continues onward and forward with hope and joy, adding to  learnings and experiences, with every result… be it positive or negative. So as you prepare for the new challenges and goals, review your past achievements and failures to learn from them: what you need to do more of, to increase your “batting average”;   and what you need to do differently, to avoid “run outs”.

better

Walk through all the rooms of the past, not to look for  cracks & peeled paint, but to review the chances you missed, the potentialities you did not capture, the low hanging fruits that you could have easily gathered in your bag. Don’t look for flaws, but focus instead on the possibilities and potential that the future holds. After all, how many of us get a chance to play our innings all over again, bat once more to overcome the mistakes you made earlier and end with a better score on the scoreboard?

Let us take inspiration from the hoary essayist G K Chesterton who guides: ““The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. … Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.

Having said that, I will not repeat the cliche every New Year is like a new diary, a new page opens up for you to write new dreams, expound fresh aspirations or make new resolutions. Rather I will say to you….I hope you have the strength to break your New Year resolutions early!

mistages

Be open to new trajectories life wants to take you into, face every new day as though it is your last, and work to leave a positive impression and an impressive trail behind. This you can do by remaining focussed on Today, Here and Now. Don’t second guess your future. Remain open to new experiences. Seek out fresh and newer pastures. Expose. Expand. Grow. One day at a time.

flowers

Do not pre-commit to paths that you may not enjoy. Live every day as it comes. And if you are positive and exploratory, you will win. No one has a manual for Life. You are the only Pilot  you should trust with this Flight of Fancy and Journey of Finding your potential. Enjoy, 2020 and beyond. (Remember, years are just numbers!)

To end: “…last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.” – vikas, the idiot;                              echoing TS Eliot, the wise

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A Hero’s Journey

theme

Every journey involves change… letting go of the past experiences, opening yourself up for new ones, a restless quest for moving on. If you look at all the mythology and history, take the Greek gods or our Indian pantheon, all Heroes have embarked on a successful journey, reached their avowed goals, and then set new targets and moved on!! Sports, Politics, Business, Athletics….every form of human endeavour essentially follows the same circle… dissatisfaction with status quo, stretching out, leaving your comfort zone behind, venturing into the unknown, going through fear uncertainty, conquering new horizons. The journey from the Known to the Unknown.

hero journey

And a true hero does not rest there. The cycle continues and that is how you breach new frontiers like Alexander the Great, or keep breaking your own record again and again like Sergei Bubka. Is the crown a hero wears too heavy? The relentless pursuit of the next goal, conquering the new territory, putting your flag on a higher mark, breaching the new pedestal is what keeps the Hero going. Edmund Hillary who was the first to climb the Everest did not succeed in his first attempt. Apparently, after one unsuccessful attempt, he was resting in his tent at the Base Camp. He could not sleep in the night…the image of the towering Everest kept him awake. Finally, he got up and came out of the tent, looked the mountainstratight in the eye, and uttered the words which became famous , ” Yes I failed in my climbing attempt. But you are a mountain. And you cannot grow. I am a man, and I can. I will come back again and conquer you!!”. Onward Ho! Herman Melville catches the fervour right in his iconic Moby Dick when he expresses Captain Ahab’s innermost thoughts, ” “I leave a white and turbid wake;
pale waters, paler cheeks, where’er I sail. The envious billows sidelong
swell to whelm my track; let them; but first I pass. Yonder…

moby dick

I differ from the conventional thinking that Opportunity Knocks! No, it does not wait at every doorstep and invite you. It continues on its path and you must show your heroism and your readiness to catch it, before it passes you by.  The world is replete with stories of people who “almost” made it, but did not, as they did not see the call to adventure and did not leave their comfort zone and did not risk taking the fight into the open seas of competition. Being a Hero is about being ready to change. Achievements are made up of sheer daring, risk taking backed up appropriately by competent plans. Finally ends illuminate the means. As you relentlessly pursue your goals and follow the paths that open, even as you travel, new horizons open up.

rasta

Trust the Universe. मंझिले और भी है. Take heart,  astronomers say there are 300 to 500 billion galaxies out there. Hence it is up to the Hero to pursue and to follow through, taking heart from Ulysses’s famous words, ” T’is not too late to seek a newer world…that which we are, we are,/ One equal temper of heroic hearts/ Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will,/ To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” (Lord Tennyson)

ask

Whether you study the Indian folklore Heroes like Ram or Arjuna or Krishna or the Greek Heroes like Heracles or Achilles or the modern day James Bond or Rajnikant the thread that joins all these stories together is the cry of the battle. All Heroes are warriors in their own unique way. They challenge status quo and change the situation for the better. They battle the evil forces whether circumstantial or human to create a better world. Modernistic warriors like Alexander Fleming or Madame Curie did the same. Hargovind Khurana or Stephen Hawking illuminated spaces and questions which looked like Mount Everest in the way of progress. Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Mandela brought a better life for fellow humans. Scientists and Technologists who are working on a diverse palette of problems that face mankind are warriors in their own right. In the modern trade and business contributions of Bill Gates & Microsoft; Larry Page & Google; Jeff Bezos & Amazon and our own Azim Premji  and Narayana Murthy have fought their own battles and changed the world for the better for their fellow humans.

Societal change is never easy. The Warrior has to have faith, self confidence and a vision to take up cudgels on behalf of the hoi polloi and bring about a change. These modern day heroes have to set new directions and go in and light up the road for their co-travellers. What matters is their effort. Their commitment. Their dedication and devotion. Their willingness to do what needs to be done. All progress begins with dissatisfaction with the way things are. And it ends in finding a better, easier, more efficient way to do the things. So change readiness is the new success mantra. Don’t wait till it is broken. Fix it, improve it, change it even while it is working so that discontinuous change takes us into progressively expanding orbits opening the gates to a much better and brighter new world.

true places

Children spend many years of their childhood being afraid of darkness. I think, correspondingly, Adults are afraid of light! Around us we find many examples : Adult  just do not want to see! The task of the new Hero is to show a mirror to his fellow beings. If required the Hero will have to turn the mirror 180 degrees around and help others face reality. He will have to shake us all out of our inertia.  And take us on the road of change. History has proven that the times and the need of the times throw up leaders and heroes. Let us await the coming of the Wise Kings who will lead and deliver us.

My hope for 2020, LET THE NEW YEAR BRING US GIANTS!!! vikas

 

Saints & Sinners

oscar

My dearest father…may his soul rest in peace…taught us many great truths. One of his favorite quote was “Every saint has a past….and every sinner a future”. And this, while he was counselling me when I had sinned. But let me begin the story at the beginning…a good place to start!!!

I have always been a strong movie buff….the large screen, the love stories, the beautiful heroines, the suffering heroes, the convoluting twists and turns of fate held great fascination for me. Mine is a serious case of Bollywood addiction!!! Every movie which released, must be seen by me!!!

But in school times, I  was on a small, monthly pocket money. And that did not last very long in front of my burning desire to see each & every movie. So I took to stealing. Maybe stealing is a big word, it was more like pinching pennies….a 2 Rupee note here, a 5 Rupee note there: pinched from my mother’s kitchen purse, or my father’s trouser pocket. Maximum was 10 Rupees if I felt very adventurous!! Never large sums, as I felt that would get too much attention. But small amounts which, I hoped, would go unnoticed. All to fuel my movie mania. (As I write, I just realised this kleptomania may have run in the family. A cousin took this to a different level, and started skimming money from bank accounts…where he was working…and nearly landed in jail!!! But that is another story!)

Let me get back to my small thefts. As happens often, Truth Prevailed… I got caught & exposed. Fortunately, only by my loving Father and my doting Mother. I was crestfallen & crushed, guilty like hell, totally low & self-humiliated. And while telling me to rise above such petty tendencies, my father gave Wilde’s words of solace…Every saint has a past….and every sinner a future!  They supported and counselled me out of my bad habit, and brought me up to be an upright and honest adult, who takes great pride in how he changed for the better.

History is replete with examples of sinners and saints who have walked on both sides of the line.

valmiki

In Hindu mythology, the most illustrious case must be of Valmiki. Valya Koli was a bandit looting and killing people in the jungles. He accosted Sage Narada once. When challenged by Narada, as to why he is sinning against humanity and whether anybody will share his guilt, Valya Koli had the realisation that he alone was answerable for his misdeeds. He decided to mend his ways, in the process becoming a Sage himself! As Valmiki, he went on to pen the Ramayana. Known as the “Adi Kavi”, the first Poet,  he composed India’s premier epic.

Angulimala

Angulimala, the bandit thief who wore a necklace of the fingers he cut off from his victims, is another story which teaches the lesson that everyone can change their life for the better, even the least likely people. Aṅgulimāla (Pali literally ‘finger necklace’) is an important figure in Buddhism.  In childhood, he was a scholar and a favourite of his teacher. Due to the jealousy of fellow students, his teacher was provoked into asking him to get 100 fingers to complete his study. Angulimala became a ruthless brigand. Yet he completely transformed after conversion to Buddhism. He is seen as the example par excellence of the redemptive power of the Buddha’s teaching and the power to change. Under Gautama Buddha, Angulimala gave up his old ways and became a monk himself.

judas

Judas Iscariot exemplifies the other half of our basic proposition. Here we have one of the original Twelve Disciples, who betrayed Jesus Christ by kissing him and revealing his identity to the crowd who had come to arrest him!! While the motive for Judas’s betrayal is still debated, Jesus himself had predicted the betrayal at the Last Supper. According to the Gospel of Matthew [26:15] Judas received 30 pieces of silver. Gospels of Luke and John say he was possessed by Satan. Whatever the reason, in Judas we see illustrious follower & “saint” fall from grace and become a “sinner” in the eyes of posterity. Interestingly, we must accept that the betrayal of Judas, set in motion events that led to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, which in turn brought salvation to humanity!! Good or Bad? Saint or Sinner? Debates rage on as The Gnostic Gospel of Judas – rejected by the mainstream Church as heretical – praises Judas for his role in triggering humanity’s salvation and exalts Judas as the best of the apostles.

So is being a Saint or a Sinner separated by a very thin line? Can we truly differentiate?

दिल की आवाज़ भी सुन मेरे फसाने पे न जा

मेरी नज़रों की तरफ देख जमाने पे न जा……thus sang Mohammad Rafi in Humsaya. And that is indeed true for all Sinners….and also all saints, past or present.

jesus

In modern times, look at the industry icons, the New Age Apostles!! Have they reached pinnacles of success purely following a pristine path? Behind every commercial success, there are many skeletons in the cupboard!! Who will judge Dhirubhai Ambani: Sinner or Saint?  Histories of large business empires are replete with stories  spoken in hushed tones in mixed company. How will you judge Mukesh Ambani? or Anil Ambani for that matter, who frittered away all he had received on a platter? Akash & Isha Ambani may have come with shining degrees from US business schools. But can they stay away from the shadow of corruption and manipulations of the Reliance Industries’ past? This is just one industrial house I quote, as it has been most hotly debated publicly, for years. But who comes with totally clean hands? Saints or Sinners?

The debate continues. The recent case of V G Siddhartha of CCD committing suicide is another classic example. Reports yo-yoed from calling him an epitome of humane corporate leadership to talks of blatant gangsterism in acquiring the coffee estates & building his plantation empire. Beginning with calling the IT Departments and Banks as villians in ruining a good entrepreneur, the tone soon changed to how political pressure was used to get soft loans and then defaulting on repayments. The web is yet to be unravelled and the jury is still out to conclude decisively whether VG Siddhartha was a Saint or a Sinner? Or take the case of our P Chidambaran – one time Finance and Home Minister who was hiding from the police & authorities. Kartik Chidambaran disproportionate assets makes the word disproportionate pale into insignificance. Harvard educated, Chidambaram was revered once. But now?? Saint? or Sinner? 

The example I quote often is Alfred Bernhard Nobel. Engineer, Chemist, Businessman and Inventor : 355 patents to his name! The synthetic element “nobelium” is named after him!!!

Nobel_Prize

Today’s generation will know him for the Nobel Prizes in Pure Sciences and Peace Prize. And thereby hangs the tale. The Nobel fortune was founded on his patent for Dynamite. Bofors was a iron and steel company, before Nobel transformed it to a maker of cannons and guns ….weapons of destruction!!! Reading an premature obituary which blamed him for making a fortune from selling arms, he bequeathed his entire fortune to institute the Nobel Prizes. This is how he is remembered today. Saint? or Sinner turned Saint? You decide.

So I come back to the basic thing my Father taught me. All Saints have a past. They have done things they may not proud of. And would rather forget or at least, gloss over or embellish when history is written. Similarly, all Sinners should have the faith that Tomorrow is yet another day. The new Sun will come with other potentialities. And newer endings to the story of life, which is still being written. As King Khan reassured us in Om Shanti Om…if Happy Endings have not come, then  do not lose faith….पिक्चर अभी बाकि है मेरे दोस्त. Things will change. And you can choose a different future….or a different past, a la Richard Bach.

mandela

If you keep the Faith, then the following concluding lines of the Humsaya song ring true… मैं हक़ीकत हूँ, ये एक रोज दिखाऊँगा तुझे

बेगुनाही पे मोहब्बत की रुलाऊँगा तुझे

So Learn to Forgive and Keep the Trust, the cycle will turn: vikas the hopeful

hoffer

Procrastination

आज नहीं दिल कल देंगे भाई ऐसी भी क्या जल्दी है,

अरे, ऐसी भी क्या जल्दी है अरे, ऐसी भी क्या जल्दी है….

So sang Dev Anand, my favourite chocolate hero, even about the most important task of giving his heart to his beloved, his heroine, the Dream Girl!! Is it surprising then that this movie was titled Shareef Badmash? That is really what procrastinators are….Shareef Badmash…..decent crooks, naughty but cute. And you have this on authority. The authority of a high ranking, self-appointed, senior Office Bearer & Life Member of the Procrastinators’ Society of India- Yours Truly, the most Hon’ble Vikas Shirodkar, Esq.

For the procrastinators, who thrive and feed on postponement and avoidance, tomorrow is the BIGGEST TIME & EFFORT SAVING DEVICE invented by mankind. The only thing you need to do in the here and now, today is to think about what is to be done, and….push it away, like a bad, bad influence, deciding to do it tomorrow instead. The motto of the Procrastinators’ Society is captured by the jingle:

आज करे सो कल कर, कल करे सो परसो  इतनी जल्दी क्या है भैय्या, जीना है बरसो

When the whole life stretches in front of you, why do today ?… what can be done tomorrow, or even the day after!!! This jingle (which twists the conventional wisdom) may well be the Motto emblazoned on the Coat of Arms of the Procrastinators’ Club.

Margaret Mitchell said in the iconic Gone with the Wind, “After all, Tomorrow is another day”. Shorn of it’s positivity and hope, that has been widely interpreted as  an license for pushing today’s tasks ahead, a passport for laziness, and a way to side-step today’s responsibilities. The procrastinators forget that we create our future by what you do today, and not tomorrow. And yet, so many of us fall prey to this sweet devil of procrastination, postponing for tomorrow, or later, what we could have accomplished today. Tomorrow has been THE greatest invention of mankind per the procrastinators and the post-poners; since it enables pushing away any, and every, task on hand to the inglorious future. Later, Tomorrow, Day-after and “when the time is ripe” are all rich catch-alls, bottomless pits indeed, into which much work can be pushed, and promptly forgotten.

tomo

In my childhood I was fortunate that I never took good teachings seriously. I always thought such learnings would corrupt my impressionable young mind!! And so I steadfastly resisted attempts of well meaning (but misguided) elders who tried to teach me conventional wisdom. There were people around who cautioned that our future is created by what you do today and not tomorrow. There were others who tried to teach that preparedness is the cure for procrastination. They taught that the heart must be properly prepared to complete any task. Challenges must be faced head on. Procrastination is only postponing today’s issues to a later time. Things pile up and then that creates panic, they taught me. Don’t handle the same paper twice, or think about the same issue multiple times: Handle it first time right and move forward to save time. And we all know time is money. Bombarded with all these well meaning thoughts, I decided to make a poster to stick above my bed with the blurb…”Procrastination is a thief of Time”. It took me one week to make this poster; and am still to find the double-sided tape to put it over my bed!!!!

not a

Soon I realised that the voices in the past were right about one thing. If you go on procrastinating and postponing things, the deadlines come and they go, and what might have been a simple task a week ago, suddenly acquires ominous proportions.  And then the last minute scramble, the late late nights, the staying awake with coffee…. All to somehow manage to catch the deadline and turn in the assignment; with the lurking feeling that you could have done it better, given more analysis and data, drawn richer insights and conclusions, if and only if you had started earlier, managed time better, worked more diligently, followed timelines and warnings enroute.

reaso

Well, what is done is done. Can’t be changed now, But from tomorrow, from the next time I will…. Sounds familiar? Welcome to the Honorary Membership of the Procrastinators Club. Come Hither….Come Hither…Come Hither…..Here you shall find no enemy…. As Wordsworth sang. Of course it is the nature of the beast that you as you sow, so shall you reap…what seeds you plant will catch up with you later. The best intentions of men and mice often go awry and all your good resolutions come to nought in the immediate next activity/project.  Maybe it is your membership of the Procrastination Club which is to blame. But again things slip, pile up, do not get done on time as you are comfortable in using the labour saving device of postponement.

crown

I remember my venerable uncle, god bless his soul, ask him anything and his standard answer was: बघुया. Whether you asked about going for a movie or a dinner outing or even buying something or planning a holiday , his answer was “बघुया ….let us see”. Never a resounding “yes” or a redoubtable “no”….just a Let us see or “बघुया”. I worked for a long time in factories on the industrial belt of Thane Belapur road. There all HR managers had a common epithet: मी बघतो  I shall see, I will let you know later. Workmen and Unions used to come with burning issues of admission to a hospital or school fees to be paid immediately, requiring the sanctioning of a loan, as per company policy. The HR manager would not review the case and give an immediate decision. The answer was always: मी बघतो I will check and let you know. Till the cart can bear, till the opposite party will allow, till the water does not over-run….I will push the decision forward. Postpone, Postpone, Postpone.

PV Narasimha Rao, the ex PM of India, was fabled never to decide. Political analysts and papparazi had a field day saying his faith was that if you delay a decision long enough and go on postponing taking a stand…due to sheer efflux of time, the problem will go away, or solve itself!!!! A joke did the rounds then… Narasimha Rao’s eldest son was unmarried at the ripe age of 42. It was whispered that he had asked his father Narasimha Rao for permission to marry when he was 30….and was still awaiting the answer from his father…a yes or a no….for 12 long years!!!! Narasimha Rao was famous for his non-decision making ability!!! The political variation of मी बघतो will check & let you know!!

The problem of this approach is captured here:

cc

Life demands answers and the proverbial stork with head in sand approach only ends up with missing the sand storm looming on the horizon, till the time the storm is on him and engulfs him. Procrastination is like sitting on a wooden rocking horse….it does not alter the situation, or take you anywhere ….however hard and fast you make the rocking horse go. What differentiates the doer and the procrastinator then?

pro brainnon pro brain

So friends the answer is clear. We need to take charge and move ahead when we delay and postpone the issues we are living through the same issue again and again. Till it is resolved, it will not go away. By burying our head in the sand, we are only postponing the conclusion and working for a solution. Remember, even the powerful Krishna did not fight Arjuna’s battles. He only counselled and guided Arjuna to face his sea of challenges and dilemmas, raise his head above the confusion and doubts, take his Bow and Arrow in hand and Fight. And Fight we must. And if we don’t, the writing on the wall is clear….forgive me the unparliamentary language here, but the following picture says it most graphically:

procrastination      So take up the cudgels & take the battle into enemy territory, by action and not postponement.

Hope you realize, I write this to convince myself, as much as to convince you:      Best always, vikibaba punter, Procrastinator par Excellence 

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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!!!!

chasing-rainbows

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…

noah

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?

enough

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

grat

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.

pwk daughters

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

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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.

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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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