Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Portrayals

Am sitting and watching Troy for the nth time. Wolfgang Peterson's rendition of Homer's epic poem. Each time I watch this movie one fact always strikes me - the Trojans, throughout the plot, broke the rules of hospitality, of war and its codes and of fairplay. The Greeks played by the rules. And yet, sympathy is inevitably with the Trojans. We mourn with them because their land was attacked by the power hungry Agamemnon. Yet it was Paris who abducted his host's wife; Hector intervenes in a one-on-one fight between Paris and Menelaus, breaking the code of war and the Greeks are attacked by night.

Homer's portrayal of the war is far more nuanced and picking sides is difficult. Homer, like in any epic, addresses ethical questions, presents grey areas and demonstrates the price each character has to pay for their actions and decisions. The movie is facutally faithful to Homer's epic. But by the sheer feat of casting twists the balance in favour of the Trojans. Eric Bana, as Hector, commands dignity and sympathy. Homer's Hector is not nearly as endearing as the man with the face of a boy. Peter O' Toole's greying, respectable and frail figure makes it seem inconceivable that he could be wronging anyone. He orders the Trojans to attack the Greeks before the Sun has risen.

Agamemnon is no paragon of virtue in the epic but he is particularly dastardly as the power hungry Greek monarch in the movie. His looks, according to me, playing no mean role in achieving this. Achilles is redeemed and perhaps the only character who portrays some of the shades of grey that Homer endowed the fabled warrior with. But then again, Achilles is such a conflicted character that you could hardly paint him black or white. He is the only one of the Greeks who retains some sympathy. Odysseus, one of the heroes of Homer's Illiad, and on whom Homer wrote a second epic poem, has become a grovelling chieftain in the movie, his only role being to convince Achilles to fight for Agamemnon.

Troy is beautiful movie for it's wonderful visual landscape. But it is a much more interesting movie for how the director manages to tilt sympathy clearly in the favour of Troy, despite all their misdemeanors through the actors who play each role. Homer makes no final judgement. If anything, he celebrates the Greek victory. The movie is clearly a Trojan saga and not a Greek epic. Such is the power of human faces, of people who become heroes.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Strawberries and cream

This is perfect weather to eat, eat and then eat again some more. So I had a bunch of strawberries sitting in my fridge - strawberries that were just the right mix of tartness and sweetness; that would bite you tongue one second and spread the most delicious flavour the next. And as luck would have it, I also happened to have some fresh cream and icing sugar sitting next to the strawberries :D.

While not really a typical winter dessert, this really is a most satisfying dessert - to make as well as eat (maybe a little more satisfying to eat :P). I love watching the cream run fluidly one minute and then thicken into this wonderful, shiny, fudge texture the next. And when you've been whipping it by hand, the transformation is all the more magical for you can feel the cream change it's texture in that fraction of a second when some chemical reaction that I am not aware of makes it all come together.

Cream done, chop strawberries and time to gorge. Sweet and tart at the same time; smooth, soft cream slipping down your tongue and the pitted, textured berries hitting your palate. I love the contrasts that make this simple combination one of the loveliest and most comforting desserts.
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Sunday, 12 December 2010

Winter evenings

It's one of those perfect evenings. Cold, but not so much that you can't sit out. Just enough to make you want to snuggle into a warm blanket, up to a loved one. It's the kind of evening to drink warm, comforting tea and curl up on the bean bag with a good book. An evening made for endless conversation and meandering reminiscences. The evening makes each fragrance deeper and each desire more languid.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The only time I have liked seeing a traffic jam

Today I took off from Mumbai for Chennai. I usually heave a sigh of relief when I do that, glad to be leaving behind traffic snarls and dusty, hot trips, eating a lot of dust and breathing smoke. Chennai is pleasanter simply because I usually have a car to take me where ever I want to go. And when I don't, I do have the luxury of simply refusing to budge. There's also dear mommy to fuss over me and daddy to crack all the jokes and a bunch of relatives who can be hilarious and exasperating at the same time. However, this post isn't about why I like Chennai and I've been rambling on here.

So anyhow, my flight took off and I was sitting in a window seat as usual (I refuse to sit anywhere else in a plane. I just love window seats!) and was staring intently out the window. Not that one could see much, at least until we took off. And once we did, I saw one of the most gorgeous sites ever. A thousand, maybe more, twinkling in a four lane band across the city. I do have my fair share of pity for anyone who did happen to be a part of that band of light that seemed to light up Mumbai for it must have taken them many hours to get anywhere at all, but from up above, it truly was a wonderful sight. Almost as though the city was lit up for Diwali. I wish I had not put my camera in the offboard luggage this one time! Sigh! So yeah, this time I have no picture to put up with my post (finding an appropriate one on corbis or something ain't gonna work this time). :(

Monday, 4 October 2010

Oh, but of course, we must prove we are secular!

The recent Allahabad High Court judgement on the land dispute at Ayodhya is to be commended (I refuse to call it the Babri Masjid case because this is NOT the criminal trial associated with the demolition of the mosque. This case was concerned with determining the ownership of the land on which the Mosque stood). It is to be commended because it does the only sensible thing that any court of law, that has the interest of the majority of this nation, can do. It split the land three ways between all the contenders and expressed its opinion on the numerous evidences present before it.

The judgement however, has come in for much criticism from some noted intellectuals of Indian society. Two in particular stand out in my mind and I find them very problematic. The first was a criticism made by lawyer Rajeev Dhawan on NDTV on the day the judgement was announced. According to him, the judgement is panchayati because the judges acknowledge the historical veracity (in the face of evidence presented by the Archeological Survey of India) of the Hindu claim that a temple once stood in the place where the Mosque was. He also has a problem with the fact that the court accepts the Hindu belief that Ayodhya is indeed the birthplace of Lord Ram. Today, a friend sent me a link that led me to this article. Historian Romila Thapar, in an op-ed article in The Hindu, criticises the court judgement stating that the ASI evidence is faulty (without once saying why it is faulty) and that while the Mosque is an integral part of Indian culture, the beliefs and historicity of India's largest religious community has no bearing on Indian culture.

I find the grounds on which these two criticisms have been made worrisome because it seems to me that the intellectuals of the country are in a constant effort to prove that they are "secular" and "broad minded" by siding with the party that has the fewer numbers. The idea of being secular is not the unquestioned protection of the miniority but the acceptance that all communities (including the majority community) have equal rights. It saddens me that in the name of secularism, we have made the majority discourse of this country the minority discourse; that people are afraid to stand up for the Hindu faith for fear of being called fascist or non secular. Why are we so belligerent in our secularism and in our stand on equality? Why can we not be broad minded enough to give the majority its due as well? Why must that always be branded as Hindutva or fascism? It is this pandering to the minority that has, in my view, caused a certain section of the majority to rise up in violent protest. While this does not make their protest right, it should give us cause to think about how we approach notions of secularism.

The land dispute in Ayodhya is first and foremost, a religious one and secondly a historical one. In a religious dispute, faith must be taken into account for the simple reason that none of us can prove or disprove the existence of God. God is a notion we subscribe to on faith and so the historical belief in Rama and Krishna too is based on faith. Second, from a historical point of view, the court only says that a temple once stood on the land where the Mosque was. No where in its judgement does the court say that the Hindus must build a temple in that spot. It only allocates one third of the disputed land to the Hindus. The claim to build a temple has been made by political leaders. It does not augur well for a noted historian to discredit the judgement of the court based on a factually incorrect and biased reading of the judgement.

Lastly, the court is not condoning the act of demolishing the mosque. There is a separate criminal trial pending in court for that. It is only sorting out a civil dispute over the ownership of land. To tie the two issues to each other is to take away from the mandate of the court in this particular case and discredit its prudence. The court has, in my opinion, done admirably in ensuring that Ayodhya does not once again become the cause for a blood bath. It has, in its judgement, upheld the essential equality of all communities in a secular state and has accepted and given legitimacy to two historical facts: that a temple existed in that spot and that a mosque existed in that spot.

In terms of upholding religious faith, perhaps Romila Thapar and Rajeev Dhawan and anyone else who feels the court has been one sided should consider this - only one of the parties has a religious culture and mythology associated with Ayodhya. That community happens to be The Hindus. It is right that their faith should be upheld. The Muslims built a mosque there. That is a historical fact which has not just been recognised but also awarded. However, they do not have any religio-cultural mythology associated with Ayodhya. And therefore, try as the court may, it will find no faith to uphold. These are things we should recognise before we cry foul and rail eloquent about minorities being wronged and secularism being cast aside. Given the tensions and diversity of our society, we cannot afford to be so insecure and defensive about what it means to be secular.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Questions, questions, questions

The simplicity of Krishna's argument, and the utter difficulty of practising it, always stuns me. Krishna, through out the Gita, makes a very simple point - Do what you must, what the situation demands (from a larger cosmic point of view) unfettered by personal desire, power, lust, envy, anger, fear, vengance or any other emotion. Do it out of love he says. Not the love that is personal and exclusive, but love that is as large as life and all inclusive. Only then are you acting in favour of the cosmic balance of the universe.

It is this same principle that allows Krishna to manipulate and break the rules of righteous war, to dupe the Kauravas at every stage of the battle, allowing the Pandavas to win. Yet, at the end of the war, the Pandavas have done Krishna's bidding without understanding his purpose (with the possible exception of Yudhishtra who is the only Pandava who enters heaven).

Yet, as an individual, when I think about anything, it is hard to view a situation free of personal prejudice. How does one, at any point, determine whether a course of action is being undertaken because that is truly what the situation demands or because there is a subconscious desire for a particular outcome that one has not been able to identify yet? When do you know that you have peeled back all layers of prejudice and conditioning and desire? How does one calculate the merits and demerits of a situation without taking into account the gain or loss (happiness or sorrow) that one is expecting from it?

Yet another reading of a retelling of the Mahabharat and I only have more questions. Still more questions and no answers at all (that in itself is perhaps, a good thing).

PS: I do recommend everyone to read at least a couple of retellings of the Mahabharat. The retellings themselves are an exercise in understanding perspective and points of view. Some of the ones I've read are:
  1. Mahasamar (Narendra Kohli): This one is in Hindi and was recommended by a friend who knows the epic better than anyone else I know!
  2. Palace of Illusions (Chitra Banerji Divakaruni): The Mahabharata told from Draupadi's perspective, the woman who is the pivot of the plot of the Mahabharata.
  3. Mahabharata retold by C Rajagopalachari: This one was my first, perhaps the simplest, as the tale would be told to a child.
  4. Difficulty of being good (Gurcharan Das): This is not a direct retelling of the Mahabharata but an analysis of its characters and plot, the lessons that can be drawn from it and the continuing relevance of the epic in present times.
  5. Jaya (Devdutt Pattanaik): This is one I just finished. It is a simple retelling but what I love about it is the little side stories and the notes at the end of each chapter pointing out the moral, sociological and political debates and setting the historical context of vedic lifestyle for the reader. It brings out both the context that created the Mahabharata as well as the underpinning values that make it eternally relevant. 
All of these books are available in India on http://www.flipkart.com and http://www.indiaplaza.in
At this point, I am regretting not knowing to read a vernacular language such as Tamil. Would love to read a folk retelling of the epic!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

The memories we talk about

I recently finished reading a book by one of my favourite Indian authors - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The book is called One Amazing Thing. To cut a long story short, it is the story of 9 people trapped under the rubble of the Indian Embassy after an earthquake. And as they wait to be rescued, they begin to tell each other stories of that one amazing thing or moment or event of their lives. And as I was reading each story I realised, they were all sad in some measure. No story was completely happy, from start to finish.

And so I started thinking back I realised that we tell our sad stories more than our happy stories. We take the happy stories for granted and wallow in the sad ones. Like telling them somehow eases the pain or gives more purpose to our lives. And that's really all wrong. Purpose in life should come from its happy parts. The things that made you giggle and laugh till your jaws hurt, till you are clutching your tummy and rolling around helplessly, hoping something will make you stop before you choke. And those moments are rare. Much rarer than all the sad things that life has to offer (it really has plenty of those).

One Amazing Thing is poignant and the stories are beautifully told. But somehow, I finished thinking amazing things should have left me smiling more than sighing.

Home

A per chance conversation had me thinking about "Home" and I realise that whenever someone asks me that question, I don't really have an answer and my answers are hardly ever the same. Today, "home" might be Delhi, tomorrow it'll be my little flat in Mumbai and day after, it'll be Chennai. I don't have a definite space that has been home since i can remember. Home for me has been transitory, changing, more a function of where I find comfort than a specific house in a specific city.

It's this way for several reasons. I've grown up and lived in several places - Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi (which was my longest stint @14 years and even there I've moved three houses), Ahmedabad and now Mumbai. Till some years back, it was really simple. Delhi was home. I'd lived there the longest, made some of my best friends and happiest memories and my parents still lived there and I still went back there for little breaks and holidays.But now, I haven't been there in almost three years - since my parents moved back to our "home town" of Chennai, my friends have move out and some have moved back and Delhi, people tell me is no longer the same. I definitely need to go there sometime soon... walk the streets of where I used to live and the nostalgia of times really well spent.


Today, for every long weekend, every festival I go back to Chennai. In my head Chennai has always been the city in which my grandparents live. It's never been happening and visits to Chennai have largely consisted of relative visiting, eating, more relative visiting and more eating. Some of that has changed. Now it's where my parents live and some of friends work there now and I get to see a slightly different, "younger" side of the city. However, though I try to think of it as "home" in the more permanent everlasting sense, it doesn't quite seem that way. Visits to Chennai or rarely ever comforting or even relaxing. If anything, they end up being more hectic and with more decisions to make than I do in my working week. It doesn't have the ease and innocence of childhood, nor any memories of the same (all those are in Delhi, remember). PS: And it seems like I don't even have any pictures of Chennai. Must click the next time I am there.

And finally, Mumbai - where I've been for the last two and a half years. It's a city in which I've truly lived alone, discovered many things, including much about myself that I did not know. I now have a little apartment here (on rent, but nevertheless!) that is my pride and according to me the most comfortable place to come back to after a day at work. Mumbai is full of advertures had, happy memories, sad memories, it is a place full of loves found and lost. At one time, I considered wanting to live here forever. But not anymore.



So I wonder where would I make home? Or for that matter, where is the place that has the peace and solace of good times spent with people who still matter?

And yes, slightly sentimental post to begin with but at least  I am writing again!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Things I am being lazy about

Things I am being lazy about 

So on an afternoon when I am getting bored, friend and I decided to put down a list of all the things we want to do and don't get around to doing. So he put up a post on his blog and tagged me. So here I go:

1. Write more... especially fiction
2. Enrol for dance classes
3. Learn swimming
4. Put up my friend's wedding pics
5. Edit my thesis for publication

There I go. This will hopefully get rid of writer's block also.

Tagging back:
Flyin Fiddlesticks

People I am tagging:
Arjun
Rehab
& Cynduja


Tag Name: I Dont/IDont/iDont (if you are an apple fan)

Monday, 31 May 2010

Revisting and retelling history

Amitav Ghosh has a talent for description. He describes in a way that makes me feel like I was right there, looking, watching, hearing. It's the quality I loved about Hungry Tide - I could use that book as a tour guide when I do make it to the Sundarbans. In an Antique Land also has that power. It makes me want to get up, go explore, see a new city beyond what tourists see.

It moves between the 1980s and the 1100s, smoothly; the Egypt of the Jews interwoven with the Egypt of Muslims.It encompasses two countries - India and Egypt - and examines the layers of their relationship with each other - the demands of politics and economics bringing them together, the differences in culture setting them apart. The discourse of three religions that have been in constant conflict in modern times - Islam, Judaism and Hinduism - throws up a synthesis that the modern mind would not imagine.

Through the story of a Jewish merchant and his slave and the Author's quest to decipher their lives, Ghosh shows how history is constructed and how we ourselves never examine the stories that build our interactions and notions of other communities. It is a fascinating journey of discovering little told or remembered stories, the kind that make you think that you too will be a part of history someday. It is a story that makes you realize that most of history is outside the textbooks, hidden in memories and tales

The book is slow, and there are no heroes - much like real life. It is a slow re examination of ingrained notions and its pace is as determined by the reader as by the author.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Candles in the cake

Age is an interesting thing. We long for it, come to hesitate about it, come to terms with it, and finally fear it. As children we want to grow older so that we may participate in the mysterious and seemingly important world of adults. As we enter adulthood, we begin to feel distaste towards growing old too soon. The realisation strikes as we suddenly no longer desire to be in the shoes of those older to us. Envy of the college and school “kids” while our parents assure us that 25 years is by no means too old! But there comes a point when for a while we come to terms with our age and begin to enjoy it without longing to be younger or longing to be older.

Kundera puts this interestingly in Laughable Loves. “Age weighs heavily on me. But I don’t feel it so much as I see my son grow.”  The character finds the pain of her fading youth outweighed by the joy of watching her son attain manhood. Joy in children, in people apart from us makes the fear of old age and impending death recede till it seems almost unreal. A time when we are thankful for what we are for it makes possible the joy of creation and the joy of watching a child grow and take shape.

Over the last week, I read two books that explored parenthood, albeit briefly, and the idea of aging in their own twisted ways – Sula and Laughable Loves. I find the point that Hannah makes in Sula interesting and enigmatic – We love our children. That does not mean we like them. I wonder how many parents make that distinction. Do they even think in terms of liking their children? Or do they just love them because they are their children?  Is it necessary to distinguish in between liking and loving children? I wonder...
In Laughable Loves, two women explore how motherhood has, in the one case, made her comfortable with her age, and in the other case deprived her of the memory of her youth and forced her to age in mind as well as in body. The one finds joy in watching her son grow, the other has decided to make herself old for her son finds himself unable to love a young mother. Reading this, I realised that I’ve never really thought of my parents as being young or old. In my mind they haven’t aged in the 24 years that I have known them. Yes, my father now has more grey hair than he did when I was a baby but in my mind there is no concept of age where my parents or grandparents are concerned. They seem so constant. I find it as hard to imagine my parents in old age as I find it to imagine their youth.

I wonder how I feel about my own age. Sometimes I think I am still a child in many ways, the passing of the years not having done much. Sometimes, I feel the change. As the youngest in the family, I find it impossible to think of myself as old, but then the number of the candles on the cake increase every year. 

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The importance of being India

I walked into office yesterday morning knowing fully well that we'd have to change the media schedule of a campaign due to India's brilliant performance in the WT20. Our campaign schedule was drawn up on the reasonable assumption that India would come second in its group, beating Afghanistan and losing to South Africa and thus, occupying position C2. However, India or rather the Indian cricket team decided to delight this cricket crazy nation by winning both matches.

How does this affect an advertising campaign you might ask? Well you see, the schedule for the inter-group matches had been drawn based on the above mentioned reasonable assumption. As a result the team C2 would play it's next three matches (the Super Eight round) in prime time according to IST. However, we thought India coming first in Group C meant that not only will the dates of its matches change but also a shift in the timing of the matches from prime time to later in the night (as per the schedule for team C1). Which in turn meant that we could run our campaign without cricket stealing viewer-ship from other programs in the prime time.

So the morning began, with a flurry of phone calls, to channels, to clients and Star cricket and many others. Changes in schedules, reallocation of spots and many other complicated maneuvers were being considered to ensure that our campaign didn't clash with the matches. Until... a representative from ESPN-Star Sports informed us that the match schedule  had been structure to not change  irrespective of whether India came first or second in Group C; that it would still occupy position C2. After all, how can India play in the anything but prime time when more than 80% of any cricketing event's revenue comes from the Indian sub continent?

Ah... the sigh of relief at the emancipation from a few hours of torturous number juggling and millions of phone calls. And yes, a shake of my head in wonderment at the importance of being India in the world of Cricket.

Loaded Dice

I was reading an Economist article yesterday about the Greek economic debacle. After looking at the declining investor confidence in Greek bonds and the likely repercussions of the IMF rescue package, the article went on to talk about the generally dismal state of Euro-zone economies and the impending crisis that may strike Spain and Portugal. There was an interesting statistic at the end of that article – the average Euro-zone public debt is 68% of GDP. That of the US of A is 70%. Still it is only Europe that is in crisis and not America. 

In its conclusion, the article also gives a brief answer to the reason for this discrimination between Europe and America – the world’s reserve currency is the US dollar. In effect, what this means is that the rest of the world cannot allow America to be in crisis for very long. It is in the interest of the global economy to ensure that America is always bailed out on soft terms, at least for now.

At the time of the 2008 Crisis, there was a lot of debate on the larger, global implications of the kind of global financial system that has been created over the years. One of the arguments, that has existed for a while, and came to the fore in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 crisis runs thus (and here I am paraphrasing from several sources): One of the primary reasons that we are a skewed global economy is that we do not have an objective international currency that penalises excess debt and credit both. We have created a system whereby, one side (in this case America) is always rewarded, regardless of debt or credit and the other side is always punished simply because, the international currency is the American Dollar. All economies hold their surpluses in dollar terms thus, making it in everyone’s self interest to ensure at the well being of the dollar by hook or by crook.  This has led to the creation of a financial system that is benchmarked on nothing, whose value is based on biased speculation and not the fundamental value of the resource.

Yesterday’s Economist article brought this to the fore again, albeit in a very subtle manner. And to me it is unjust indeed that some countries should suffer and others not simply because the dice has been loaded since the beginning. I wonder if any generation, in the near or far future, will have the courage to dismantle this unequal system and create a level playing field. 

Sunday, 2 May 2010

358 years of Inspiration

It could have well been a thriller, the pace at which the story moves. By the end of it, you are definitely holding your breath, wondering whether Andrew Wiles will succeed in achieving his childhood dreams. And if there is something other than the Last Lecture, that makes a case for following your dreams and passions, it is Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh.

It isn't the kind of book you would expect for something written about a mathematical theorem and the solving of it. For most of us, we left behind the dreary world of maths and its incomprehensibly abstract theorems in school. Okay, I'll correct that, most Indians I assume pursued a part of it into engineering. But we certainly left it behind at that. Simon Singh's Fermat's Last Theorem brings forth not the dreariness of a maths question in an exam but the thrill of puzzle solving. The absolute elation at having gotten in that last piece of the jigsaw puzzle after painstakingly working through the edges to the center.

He tells the story of the world's longest unsolved puzzle (Fermat's Last Theorem remain unproved for a whopping 358 years) instead of presenting the mathematical proof. He builds the anguish that has surrounded the mathematical community and the edginess of not being able to sleep with an unsolved question in the head with the panache of a mystery author. What contributes to the pace of the book is the fact that it is low on jargon and high on history, low on technology and high on personalities. Simon Singh guides the reader through the entire fascinating history of mathematics starting with Pythogoras. He demonstrates what must have inspired geniuses like Pierre de Fermat and Andrew Wiles by giving the reader a first hand glimpse of what they read and what they saw. Through many an anecdote, he sketches a vivid portrait of the beauty and perfection that the discipline of mathematics aspires to and the passion that drives most mathematicians.

For me, the most elating discovery was that the utterly incomprehensible (to me) and abstract edifice of mathematics (I dreaded the subject in school and barely cleared it, I must confess) is built upon only 8 simple axioms that even I can comprehend! It brought me closer to understanding the beauty of maths that draws many minds to it. After much time, I've read a book that has made me want to recommend it to everyone I know. And yes, as an after thought, it is ironic that it is a book on mathematics, and I am sure my mom will be elated about the same!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Love between the covers

Finished reading a series recently (or rather a section of a series spread over 3 books) - the Change Series by S.M. Stirling - and was hit by the extent to which the death of one of the principle characters affected me.


(Plot spoiler alert! Don't read the next para if you intend to read the series!)
I'd been reading the series for a while at the time, almost a month through the three books and Mike Havel emerged as a strong and charismatic character right in the first book. And so when in the third book  Mike Havel dies a heroic death, I could have easily been one of the mourners in his funeral procession who felt his loss completely. It didn't matter that I had flipped to the end of the book as I started it and I knew he was going to die before I began the book. My reaction was just as intense.

As I read, I become intensely involved with everything about some of the characters and I can usually come up with both a history and a future for them beyond the pages of the book. In much the same way that we find out about the new people that we meet, I flip through the pages of a book, greedily looking for information about the people I like, the people I wish I'd meet on the street someday. The impact is even more intense with series' than with single books and with books I've read multiple times versus books I've read only once. A simple function, I think, of the amount of time one spends with the characters and the deeper understanding that one develops about them. And even when the plot or storytelling deteriorates in quality, I read on simply to stay involved with the people I've fallen in love with. They become a part of what I know about the world I live in and I react to them in my imagination in much the same way as I would to real people in the real world. And as in real life, while the curiosity about those around us diminishes with time and the attachment does not, so it is with people who inhabit the pages of a book.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Love and anger

Read something recently that struck a chord:
It is an intelligent woman indeed who can distinguish between anger and love. 

It is possible to be angry with someone and still love them. To not condone their mistakes and still be there.

PS: I am being prolific today... it is just one of those days.

Chocolate vs. Men

Chocolates ... I know very few women who don't like them. And for good reason are there so few who do not like chocolates. Chocolates score over men in almost everything given that they produce the same hormonal effect. Here's a shortlist:

  1. They do not have issues - commitment issues, independence issues, alcohol issues and many others.
  2. Easy decision tree. They just want to be eaten.
  3. The only "space" they need is in your mouth and stomach!
  4. They smell nicer and definitely not of sweat.
  5. They don't argue about growing beards and mustaches that poke.
  6. They taste infinitely better
  7. They are low maintenance.
There you go. A reason for each day of the week to like chocolates.

This post is dedicated to women like Curry who absolutely love chocolate :D

Cultural Apathy

I see in people all around me a lack of appreciation for those whose way of life is different from our. It is most obvious in reactions to food. So of course Indian Chinese is better than Chinese Chinese never mind the fact that the Chinese were the ones who came up with Chinese food.

What is even more disconcerting for me is the fact that this cultural apathy often gets tied in with some sort of jingoism where by everything done the Indian (in this case) way is right and every other way in the world is just a compromise or a second best or the actions of an ignorant mind.

To me the only solution to this apathy like in gearing our education system to expose people to different cultures and create in them an appreciation of varied ways of life. At an age when we are free of prejudice, if we are not fed with propaganda, we may be a world of more tolerant and sensitive people. We may be people whose understanding of others living in myriad parts of the world goes just beyond their nationality; we may find more joy in exploring the unknown and letting it flow through us instead of judging it in a fit of  jingoistic superiority.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Behind the glass walls

Was browsing through some photos from last year's trip to the San Diego Zoo and was suddenly struck by the whole mockery of having Polar Bears in the temperate zone. "Not so polar!" as a friend commented on the photo. This year, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I saw some Penguins pattering around in a temperature controlled enclosure. In one way it was really great. I saw animals I'd probably not have the chance to see otherwise and some of these places are doing a really great job at breeding species that are otherwise declining rapidly due to the destruction of their natural habitats due to one or the other reasons.

But as I browsed through those photos of Polar Bears and Gorillas in these mammoth glass enclosures that are cages nevertheless I ended up thinking how sad it is that the only places that we can see some of these animals is in cages because there are so few of them in the wild. Also, somehow, the experiences just do not seem to compare. I end up feeling much more awed watching a National Geographic or David Attenborough documentary on Gorillas than to see one doing exactly the same thing (which is to be chomping on some twigs) behind a glass wall.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The triumvirate of advertising

I was sitting in a presentation yesterday when a thought that often strikes me made its appearance once again - that advertising agencies develop a point of view on the most profitable segment of the population and translate that consumer profile across business, products and brands.

Okay, now let me try and explain that in plainer English. In the nearly two years that I've worked in an ad agency, I've seen, in pitch after pitch, consumer profile after consumer profile, certain commonalities. And my take is that each agency, by virtue of the kind of place it is and the kind of people who work there, comes to evolve a certain kind of consumer they are comfortable talking to irrespective of the product category they are working on. The reason I think this happens is that there is a match between the value systems of the agency and of this "consumer profile". The work also tends to talk far more effectively to this audience and the clients we end up working with are also in the same space.

My point really is this: it isn't just about the brand and the consumer. The choice of consumer and brand is as much about the agency as well and creative work reflects the character of an agency and its people as much as the character of the brand.

PS: I really started thinking about this because of a tweet sent to me by Rehab! So well yes, here's my first post on advertising!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Indispensable

There's a piece of recitation I remember from my school days. It was titled The Indispensable Man. It went somewhat like this (I am not quoting exactly):
Whenever you are feeling important, take this simple test: Fill a bucket half full with water. Dip your hand in it, up to the wrist. You may splash about and shake the water. The hole that is left when you take your hand out is the measure of your indispensability.

Am sure you've figured the point that the piece above is trying to make. There was a point of time, I'll confess, when I believed the above to be largely true. I still believe it to be mostly true in the context of organisations and workplaces. After a brief period of adjustment, everyone WILL get on with things, and your office will continue to function without you. And no one will be happy or sad for all eternity.

On the personal front however, it is a much grey-er area. On the one hand yes, life does not stop and we learn to be happy and move on. So if it is about mere functionality, then yes, no one is indispensable. But then people are not about mere functionality (that's the domain of machines). When one does look a little deeper than mere functionality people do become indispensable. They are capable of causing lasting happiness or sadness to those they come in contact with. There is a warmth and comfort and sense of security that they do provide. And while someone else can provide some of that, no person is completely replaceable. There will always be something missing, a little void that only that person can fill. There will also be the happiness that only a person can provide.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Kaleidoscope

A conversation between two women. An unlikely conversation.
Two strangers, if people who have something intimate to share can be called strangers. So what if they've never met before.
Inspired in part by a painting by Kasturee Kailash and in part by my slightly morbid, over active imagination.


I am profoundly jealous of you.


And you, you have my disbelief... no not disbelief, incredulity might be a better word.


Why are you incredulous? We are not the same after all.


Maybe even incredulity isn't the right word to convey what I think about you.


You do know that I think you are a fool to have let go of what I desperately crave. I am also thankful that you did. But still...


That is why I am... curious, yes that's more appropriate, curious. Curious to know why you crave it so much.


And I, I have a morbid curiousity to know why you let go of it.


Maybe, maybe we see the same thing but want different things.


Or maybe we want the same thing and see different things... like two people standing on either side of a wall with different wallpapers on both sides.


I wonder which one is real then.


Both. None. I'd probably plump for none. 


We won't ever know which one it was will we?


If there is such a thing as heaven or utopia and all of us reach it, we might.


Till then?


Till then you and I will sit like this. Staring at our portions of the sea, each seeing a different view.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Is religion really a matter of private practice?

Okay today's my day for writing on religion. And I really didn't want to include this in the previous post. So here we go.

There's an age old argument with respect to religious practices and the public space. It's an argument that's constantly brought up by those who do not condone or appreciate public displays of religion (i.e., processions, public pujas, dancing on the roads, so on and so forth). I have to be honest here and count myself amongst those who have regularly used the argument in criticizing the nuisance that a public display of religion causes (PDR let's call it). It goes thus: Religion is a personal thing. Why, oh why can't people practice it within the confines of their homes? Why do they have to bring into the public domain like this, disrupting our lives and causing a nuisance?


I was thinking about this while I was writing the previous post and I realized, there is NOTHING private or personal about religion. There never was. Since the beginning of human civilization, religion has always been social, practiced by groups and used as a tool for exercising power and ordering the group/society.

Most ancient religions (and the ancient roots of modern ones) started as an attempt to come to terms with forces of nature that, at the time, were beyond rational comprehension. As science, evolved to explain those, religion took on the role of higher and higher levels of abstraction, representing causality that we were at a loss of words to explain. From forces of nature to creation, religion has tried to explain all that the science of the day does not have an answer for. It is not coincidence that the first scientists were men and women of religion (across societies).

As religion became more abstract and more and more a matter of belief as opposed to the quest for knowledge, it evolved yet another purpose alongside - that of a tool to create social order and discipline. And so emerged rituals.

Religions, from the time that each of them acquired a critical mass of followers, have always been a tool for co-opting dissent, a way to give legitimacy to power, rule and inequality; a pressure valve to ensure that an essentially unequal society does not collapse into anarchy due to discontent. After all, God's will is a more palatable explanation that survival of the fittest.
So no, religion cannot be practiced in privacy (Spirituality yes. Religion no.)

Whenever I think about religion, I always run around wondering why they engender so much conflict? Especially if one takes a sanctimonious view of religion, the conflict seems to be contradictory and paradoxical to the basic premise of there being a higher good. But see religion, as a tool of power and there are two answers to that question of conflict that I can see (there are probably many more than two).

First, religions have become like higher level individuals, fighting for space and other resources with no meta-religion to order them.

Second, religion is a convenient way of not taking political responsibility for developmental and economic inequality. The rise of Hindutva is a good example. Blame the unemployment of Hindu youth on reservations given to minority communities (never mind the statistical fact that in a country composed of 84% Hindus, the majority of unemployed are likely to be Hindus as well) as opposed to having an informed conversation on the faulty model of economic development that led to burgeoning public sector debt and the absence of a robust, profit oriented private sector to create wealth. (Personal disclaimer: I am not a supporter of the reservation policy of the Indian Government. But the argument against reservations is a different one and I don't want to confuse issues here. For the purpose of how religion is used to abdicate political and democratic responsibility, this example is an eminently suitable one.)


The highly political nature of religion is something, we in our daily lives, never come to realise. We confuse, all to easily, our personal value systems with a society's religious beliefs. The fact that we consider religion to be personal is what endows it with the immense political power that it exercises in the world today. So maybe one answer is to see religion like any other political ideology?

Interactive Voice Response

My friend and I were talking on friday when we came up with this utterly ridiculous line of conversation:

He: Imagine if we could actually call God!
I: We'd get an IVR system
He: Ha! And what would that sound like?
I: For Muslim, press 1
   For Christian, press 2
   For Jew, press 3
   For Buddhist, press 4
   For Hindu, press 5 for further options
   For Confuscian, press 6
   For atheist, press 7
   For I'm feeling lucky, press 0 and talk to the available God.
He: What are the further options under Hindu?
I: For Ram, press 1
   For Krishna, press 2
   For Ganesha, press 3
   If you are a premium subscriber, press 4 to speak directly to Vishnu and press 5 to speak directly to Shiva
   If you have subscribed to our Female goddess service, press 6
   For I'm feeling lucky, press 0 and talk to one of 3 million Gods.
He: hehe
I: Ya, ridiculous isn't it?! How do we come up with these!

Organised religions are a bit like an IVR. We are all clamoring to talk to different operators in the same call center. Much like customer care, the answers are also the same. Why then do we fight?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The way we were meant to be

"God did not mean for us to be this way. If he had, he would have given us _________"

I've heard this refrain a million times and if you push the refrain enough, it always ends with the other person saying "yes, maybe we'd be better off in the caves, the way we were supposed to be." But I always do wonder why we as a species are the way we are.

Let me clarify what I mean here. Why are we, human, so different from other animals? In terms of sensory abilities and physical endurance, we are far far inferior to most high-order mammals. Most commonplace answers such as "language" and "learning and teaching" apply in great measures to other species as well. Why, then is it, that we alone moved out of our evolutionary beginnings as bi-pedal hunter gatherers?

The book I'm reading currently (I am a strange loop) throws some light on this. Our ability to create analogies and isomorphisms expands our ability to create, manipulate and extend things beyond their natural uses. To be able to use coal not only as fuel, but to be able to modify it and use it to create steel. Our capacity to process perceptions and to be able to reference things (from others of our species, written words, our own memories) allows us to move beyond that which we can directly experience. There IS a greater mental capacity that has enabled us to move beyond the caves and our intellect isn't a self-effacing fancy.

So my only answer to those with that refrain: Evolution (I prefer that word to God) may not have meant for us to be this way, but it certainly did not mean for us to be stuck in the caves. The way we are right now is a function of the countless choices made in every single moment not just by humans but by all of existence. We may have been something else but I very much doubt if we'd have been stuck in the caves for all eternity.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Jet Lag

The effects of jet lag surprise and humor me. So I am going to list them down:

  1. My tummy is highly confused... wants food at odd times and more so, odd food at odd times.
  2. I wake up at 2 at night instead of sleeping at 2 at night
  3. As a corollary to 1 & 2, I now eat chocolate at 2 at night
  4. I am much more productive when I am jet lagged (not very surprising given that I sleep two hours a day)
  5. I get weird, time skipping dreams!
  6. I don't know what day or what time of the day it is... mind-body-reality disconnect :P
  7. I remember things I haven't in years... in the middle of the night... including the periodic table and gifts I bought and never gave to people :|
And I am hoping all of this, including the productiveness, passes by this weekend. It really isn't very good to be so efficient :P

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Desire

This post has been the toughest in the series so far. Tough because of jet lag (:P) and also because desire is so multifarious and omnipresent. My experience of desire, of any and all kinds put together, tells me it is inexhaustible. It exists in endless supply, mutating, manifesting, intensifying, invigorating and exhausting. Desire is the cause of both great happiness and great sadness and both pass in their turn as desire renews itself with a different face. Desire is also motivation and aspiration; the root of the drive to do something beyond just surviving.

"To want to get rid of desire, in the quest for everlasting peace and happiness, is itself a desire; a desire that we will never be able to fulfill for desire is written into our very nature as human beings. It is what sets us apart from other animals; that we are programmed to move beyond surviving."


I must admit I was more than mildly surprised and glad to hear this in our first session, now exactly two weeks ago. I heaved a sigh of relief knowing that I wasn't going to be told that I must give up all my worldly pleasures to achieve enlightenment; that it was possible to live with the same intensity of emotion without it affecting my equilibrium (personal confession: my emotional equilibrium, or lack of thereof, was part of the reason I was in that course in the first place. The other reason I was there was because of intellectual curiosity sparked off by what a friend experienced through the same course a few months ago).

But now I am digressing all over the place. To get back to desire.

One of the paradoxes that I've always had trouble resolving in what I call the "detachment doctrine". Almost every philosophy and self-help paradigm preaches detachment and creating a distance between oneself and the situation. My problem with this doctrine is that in the kind of detachment preached, I cannot find the motivation to act. So the question that plagues is that are desire and peace at loggerheads? Can they never co-exist? And as I said in a previous post of mine, personally I'd rather give up peace than give up the idea of desire.

However, to get a different handle on desire, consider this proposition that Sadhguru put forward: It is not desire that brings you misery. It is that even in desiring, you have not moved beyond survival. Only your survival standards have gotten higher but in your minds desire is still seen only in the perspective of survival. So you desire money, fame, power, sex, comfort and so and so forth. Those desires need to be indulged in but with the awareness that they are survival desires, that they will go through phases and while one will and should rejoice and mourn them, one need not disturb oneself internally over them.

Desires that go beyond survival, whether it is in the realm of intellectual innovation or spiritual growth, are by their very nature, desires that don't cause misery. The quest here is for something internal that does not necessarily have a physical manifestation. These abstract desires are also boundless and never ending but here each step is a step higher and each level of fulfillment has a satisfaction all its own without bringing with it the frustration that there is still so much more to achieve. Here also one encounters failure but failure in this realm does not bring with it misery. Disappointment yes, but with it also the strength to move on and do more.

In the first hearing, the above two paragraphs sounded eerily like the "detachment doctrine" to me. However, what Sadhguru goes on to say is this: there is your physical self and your non-physical, abstract self. What one needs to do is to restrict the joys and pains of the physical self and not let it affect the equilibrium of the non-physical or abstract self. It is when the non-physical self gets affected that there is a loss of peace and calm. Physical or survival desires are externally motivated, today largely by the "keeping up with the Jones'" syndrome. The reason we get so strongly affected by them is because we have fallen into the trap of defining our abstract selves (or many a time not even realizing that there is something in the human being that pushes it to go beyond just physical survival) in physical terms with reference to others.

So what is important is to not try to get rid of desire but to understand the different kinds of desire and keep each one in perspective and let it affect only that much of ourselves; to not let physical desires become the ruling passion of our lives.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Responsibility

My idea, and I'll be presumptuous enough to say that most people's idea of responsibility is one of a duty to be done, of being accountable, of a set of rules to be followed, and of being the causative agent of a consequence. In this sense, responsibility is burdensome. There is always the stress of having to be "right" else to face the music, the risk of being blamed for the consequences, the pressure of other people being dependent on you and the power, pleasure and pain of being able to conduct another person's life even for a tiny moment. Stress is almost the spouse of this responsibility then isn't it? But then evading it isn't entirely pleasant either. Afterall we all want to be married (most of us atleast)! Evasion of this kind of responsibility brings with it a sense of guilt and paradoxically, there is an almost instictive desire to take on as little of it as is possible for none of us want to be blamed for that which goes wrong.

In understanding responsibility in this manner, what we have done is to link it inexorably with action. Not just link it, but make it an afterthought to action. One has "done" something so one must be "responsible" for it. It becomes a matter of staking claim. One takes responsibility (and thus, praise and admiration) willingly and voluntarily when the going is good and shuns it as far as possible when things get rough. Responsibility here also becomes defined in a highly external sense, with respect to what we "owe" those around us.

But like all the other things that we talked about in those seven days, Sadhguru offered us another away of looking at the idea of responsiblity. One that is internal and does not have connotations of praise or blame attached to it. Responsibility could, very simply, be the ability to respond to the things that surround us and make up life. In this sense, responsibility preceeds action. It is not about taking a particular course of action or being answerable to someone. It is only the choice to respond as a living, thinking, feeling being to all that and those who surround us. So I am not only responsible for myself, my family, those I love and care about but for everything and everyone who constitute each moment of my life. I am not responsible for them but I chose to respond to them. The moment I choose not to respond, that moment, to that person or that situation, I am dead. This responsiblity has no rules, no rights, no wrongs, no pre dictated and absolute paths of action, save to respond. It gives one the freedom to respond with any kind of action or to respond with inaction if that is what seems suitable.

So, if inaction can be responsibility, what is the point of responsibility really? This is the first question that popped into my head. Wouldn't it be that much easier for people to evade action especially now that they could claim to be doing it out of responsibility?

But the fact is the two things are entirely different. To not act out of lethargy or fear of the consequences is evasion, a nothingness where one seeks to cease to exist, to not matter to existence. To chose not to act out of full knowledge and to responsibility is another form of action. It is a considered, consciously made response. It is a choice of one set of consequences over another.

Taking on this kind of responsibility  makes one's capacity to act limitless. The minute one takes the limits off what one choses to respond to, the possibilities, choices and options are truly mind boggling. It is also the first step towards never feeling helpless. It can bring about a much greater intensity of feeling and at the same time give the emotional flexibility to act out of choice and not prejudiced reaction. It is that felling of control over each moment of one's life and circumstances, of being consciously alive and not just living. It is freedom from the need to blame and from having to take blame; of acting with the knowledge that one has not only the strength but the willingness to face the future, what ever it may be, with joy for whatever it is, it is still life. It is being able to play to win but being able to accept loss too. It is, I think, what the sportsman spirit was meant to mean.

As with acceptance, we were asked to practice this for twenty four hours. The experience of even little things like walking in an over-crowded Mumbai local station changed for me. I saw the anger and irritation dissipate quicker, easier to restore the happiness of feeling the winter sun on my toes (that, y the way, is one of the things that gives me the greatest joy. Feeling the sun on my toes... just my toes.); to stop reacting and start responding.

Am not going to say much more here. This one you have to try to see what it does to you. I can assure you though that freedom from the necessity to blame others is itself worth the trouble this one is going to take to begin with!

The next topic for my series is a bit of a mystery. Even to me. There are three to chose from and I cannot decide. Am going to spend the rest of my weekend thinking them over. And It'll be up sometime soon depending on how quickly I get my packing done.

PS: In writing that last paragraph, I've done the ego inflating thing of assuming that people are reading the entire series. Oh well! Never hurts to make oneself happy about something one is going to do anyway. :D

Friday, 22 January 2010

Acceptance


The question our teacher asked us was:
Can this moment, this exact moment, right now, be anything different from what it IS?

The straight and simple answer to that question is NO. This moment cannot be any different. In that sense it is inevitable. Anything I do will only change the next moment. But this moment, as it exists right now, is inevitable. Accepting this inevitability of present moment is not fatalism (there is, I think, a tendency to jump to the conclusion that to accept something as inevitable is equivalent to subscribing to fatalism) but an act of realism. The present therefore, needs to be accepted, not grudgingly or helplessly but with a full awareness of that which is and with complete knowledge of the nature of this acceptance.

Before I move on to what exactly this acceptance does, there's one more clarification that needs to be made, for we use the words of the English language too loosely and vaguely. To accept is not the same as giving in or becoming helpless or subservient. It does not mean that one becomes a victim of circumstance and resorts to a life of lethargy and laziness. Acceptance here is being used in it simplest and most literal sense - to acknowledge reality, to take complete cognizance of it as a fact.

But why accept? What does it do and how is it related to the idea of freedom that I talked about in the previous post? Acceptance does two things: first, it lets one enjoy the present completely and fully. For it is only the present which exists. The past is dead and the future only a projection or illusion of one's imagination. It brings home the fact that only the present exists; that this present, this moment is unique, has never come before and will never come again in all of existence; that the ray of sunshine that dances on your feet, as you walk on a busy street is your ray of sunshine, that the little cloud you see rumbling on the horizon will not be there in the next moment. Knowing this, I can attest from personal experience, adds a lot of beauty to every little thing that surrounds you. It makes one aware of all that one takes for granted, brings a sense of joy to every step taken, every sight seen, every sound, every smell and every touch. It makes wallowing in the past seem shallow and worrying about the future seem pointless. And that, is a great relief.

The second thing that acceptance does, and this is how it relates to action, is that it ensures that the mind has complete information about any situation that it finds itself in. To acknowledge reality is to acknowledge everything about reality without prejudice and without fear. When in denial or when in a hurry to think ahead without first thinking of all that constitutes the present, the mind only has incomplete information. It only sees that which it wants to see. But when it accepts with full awareness, it sees everything that there is to see in that moment. This brings both clarity and objectivity and gives one the power to shape the next moment in whatever manner one wills. It brings about the mental flexibility to do what must be done in any situation and the competence to do that which is required in the manner that one best can.

The evening that we discussed this notion of acceptance, we were asked to focus on practicing it for at least the next twenty-four hours. To consciously tell ourselves to accept the moment as inevitable, to focus on everything about the present without wishing for this moment to change. I am going to take the liberty of putting down two small instances.

For those of you who know me, you also know that I've been going through a bit of a turbulent time (bit is an understatement!) in the last few months. While the eye of the storm has now blown over, I've been victim of my greatest weakness: mulling things over and over again in my head; of letting them turn around in ever distorting spirals, succumbing to anger, guilt and grief in turn. That night, once I came back home, I sat on my bed and for the next hour focussed only on accepting every part of what had happened just as it had; accepting all that it was in the present (however different from what I had really wanted); accepting that I could not change that which already is but only that which was to come. It may sound unreal right now (it certainly sounds fantastic to my skeptical ears) but the happiness and peace that descended as well as the confidence I felt in facing whatever came the next morning or the next moment was unbelievable. I'll not lay claims to having achieved that state permanently. I'll be honest, I slip into my ruminations of old now and then, but they are rarer and less intense. It is slowly becoming a memory in its entirety as opposed to bits and pieces that I must analyse.

My other experience was more mundane but nevertheless significant to me. On Friday night (a week ago), we were given a list of things in class that we needed to bring on Sunday early morning for the puja. Now I normally have an off on Saturdays. But as Murphy would have it I was working this particular Saturday and as Murphy would again have it, I had to buy pretty much everything on that list. I knew I wouldn't make it back in time on Friday or Saturday to pick up anything. My usual self would have freaked out at this situation and gone into hyperventilation. I would have made a dozen phone calls and fretted to a million people. I'll also admit that sitting there listening to that list, I did freak out mildly and go into a tizzy of sorts wondering how ever was I going to manage it?! But sitting there and telling myself that this was and that I just had to work around it saved me a lot of time and my vocal chords, I might add. It did all turn out right eventually :)

And now I realize that I haven't been very brief with my experiences. I hope I've gotten the point across. Freedom requires mental and emotional flexibility. Acceptance provides the mental flexibility; responsibility the emotional flexibility. That's going to be my next post. However, I think I'll take a break over the weekend. Or maybe I won't. :)

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Freedom

Am going to start where I left off yesterday: at Freedom. The idea of freedom has existed since time immemorial. Freedom from subservience to the forces of nature, freedom from hunger, freedom from slavery... Freedom. The most commonplace understanding of this ideal that drives much of civilization can be stated thus:
The ability to act as I want, unhindered and unencumbered. 


In interpreting this notion of freedom, we make the implicit assumption that constraints, compulsions and hindrances come only from other, external sources and not from ourselves. So what the above notion of freedom translates to is essentially this: the ability to act in a particular, pre-determined manner in spite of the external situation. It is driven by personal likes and dislikes and prejudice. What it also means is that if actions are pre-determined then so are the consequences. Where then is the freedom? Sure, I've done what I wanted to but is that really freedom? If one looks at this notion of freedom from another angle, isn't it nothing but bondage of a different kind?

Here's a simple example to illustrate what I mean (and it's something that's happened to me so I know what it feels like :) ). Let's say I have guests at home for dinner and there's this show on TV that I really really want to watch. In fact I've been waiting for weeks for it to go on air. The TV in my house is in the dining room where everyone is sitting down to dinner at the exact time of the show. Now, my insisting on watching the show would result in either everyone having to keep quiet during dinner or my not being able to hear anything properly. The former will leave the guests disgruntled and the latter will leave me irritated and feeling a little cheated out of watching the show properly. The first situation (that of the guests shutting up) would fit part with the notion of freedom stated above. After all, I did manage to do exactly as I wanted. I even managed to manipulate the external situation to suit me. Yeay!

However, here's what someone not involved in the situation might think of the situation: Isn't wanting to watch TV so badly just another kind of dependence? Maybe I'd actually enjoy myself more if I sat with the guests without grudging the fact that I am not watching TV. I could always catch a re-run later. But this is a possibility that would never occur to me if I were so completely hell bent on watching the show.

While the example I've given is rather trivial, the point is simply this: true freedom lies in having the mental and emotional flexibility to act in a manner best suited to the situation. It lies in taking each factor into account in proportion to its importance to the decision taken. There are situations in which emotions and personal preferences have a large bearing. There they need to be accounted for. In others, where it is immaterial, personal prejudices need to be set aside. For example, at the work place, I might not like someone but I should be willing to work with them if they are the best suited person for the job at hand. At the same time I can choose not to associate with them personally outside the work space.

Krishna, that most pragmatic of gods, explains this to Arjuna in the Gita when Arjuna hesitates to fight the war against his cousins and puts down his weapons. Throughout the Mahabharata, Krishna himself demonstrates this principle. He does what he must to ensure the victory of Dharma; of good over evil. Being utterly involved in the situation he still displays the ability to strategise objectively, detach himself and do what he must.

This notion of freedom however, requires two other things - acceptance of the present moment and responsibility. That's for tomorrow and day after though.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Karma

A quick background to the series of posts that I am going to be writing over the next couple of days:
For the last week I've been participating in the Inner Engineering Program run by the Isha Yoga Foundation. If you find the work that Isha is doing in the areas of environment, rural rejuvenation, prisoner rehabilitation and education worthy of your support, you can vote for them on Chase community  giving here before the 22nd of January 2010.

Apart from the initiation into the Kriya, the program also included a discourse on certain basic aspects of life pertaining to the inner well being of each individual. Over the last 7 days we've discussed "the business of happiness" (as our teacher put it). We've explores a new way of looking at ideas such as responsibility, desire, reaction, action, freedom and karma. In this and the next few posts, I am going to set down my understanding of what was said and some of my experiences in applying the same over the last week.

Karma
Karma was one of the last things we talked about. But I am going to being with Karma. I am beginning here for two reasons: a) Understanding Sadhguru's explanation of Karma and how we create it made everything else fall into place much better. b) Before this program, and even more so after it, I think Karma is one of the most misused words.

Karma is commonly understood in two ways or contexts. First, as action or duty that one must perform as a part of one's place in society and the world. The other denotation of Karma, and the one commonly used when talking of the Hindu way of life refers to the "good" or "bad" deeds credited to your spiritual account. According to commonly understood Hindu philosophy, Karma is what determines the fate of an individual. The depth of Karma and its mystery lies in the fact that the accumulation of Karma is said to transcend lifetimes (if you are a believer in multiple lives that is. If you don't, hold on till I am done with this piece. Karma can still count. The cynic in me insists on this disclaimer.)

Now here's an alternative way of looking at Karma offered to us in these seven days: Karma is conditioning. Conditioning through experience and education. Let me delve a little deeper into what is meant by conditioning here. The human brain processes sensory information through four processes: cognition, recognition, sensation and reaction. For example, when the eye perceives a flower, the brain first cognizes that it is seeing something. Then from previous experience it identifies or recognizes it as a flower. This recognition then produces a sensation of pleasure or pain, pleasantness or unpleasantness based on the stimuli. Lastly, the brain reacts to the sensation and goes on to store the experience of the stimuli in a particular category based on the reaction. It then uses this reaction as a reference point for how to react to the same stimuli at a later date.

A baby is born without any preconceived notions. As it begins to experience the world through its sensory faculties, cognition, recognition and sensation occur automatically in the human brain.These three processes are essential for the survival instinct to function and to protect the physical body. The fourth process, that of reaction, is part voluntary and part involuntary. Reaction begins as an involuntary function as we categorize experiences as "I like this", "I do not like this", "I love this", "I hate this" and so on and so forth. As this habit of reacting becomes more and more innate, we begin to confuse sensation with reaction. Sensation is a physical response that is essential to judge whether a stimuli is conducive to life or not. Reaction on the other hand is our response to that stimuli.

Constant categorization thus, creates in us a pre-conditioned response to situations and stimuli that follow a certain pattern. This building of a library of pre-conditioned or pre-determined responses is the accumulation of Karma. What it prevents one from doing is to see the uniqueness of each situation and it is this inability to see a situation free from the prejudice of a prior experience that creates a determinism in the way we lead our live. Karma.

As we grow older and more aware of our inner capabilities and of the control we have on ourselves, we have the option of not accumulating this Karma. By learning to experience and respond to every situation without the response becoming a rigid rule. Learn from the past but let it not be a determinant of your every future action. Situations may be similar but are never quiet the same. Making love to the same person twice is hardly the same experience is it? The path to Freedom then, lies in being able to see this uniqueness of every situation and every moment and giving oneself the knowledge of the various ways in which one can respond and the flexibility to respond differently each time.

I'll stop here for Freedom in another post in itself.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Meaning

Have been reading a rather lot of some blogs lately. And here's a not so shocking thought that never ceases to surprise me: You can write with one meaning and the reader can derive completely another meaning from what you write and it is still as deep and as meaningful as you meant it to be. Every thing wraps around the things that bother each one of us and words take on meanings that we want them to take, say the things that we cannot find our own words for, and create meanings that will give us comfort and solace.

Monday, 11 January 2010

By the sea shore


Sitting on the shore, watching the relentless waves, I look around at the city I've come to love but not quite think of as home yet. I look at the millions who crowd every little crevice here, at the abandon and anonymity they find in being utterly public. I revel in the silence you can find only in the senseless and intelligible noise of the crowd. The complete solitude of being surrounded by strangers. Moments when honesty is easy, confessions are natural and fears melt with the setting sun.

I enjoy the serenity of utter chaos and confusion for it is not unlike the one in my mind as I ponder where to go from here.
 

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