To Be or Not To Be

A little kingdom I possess,
Where thoughts and feelings dwell;
And very hard the task I find
Of governing it well.
~ Louisa May Alcott

...that more or less describes my situation!

~A Wise Man Said~

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
~ Aristotle

Monday, November 15, 2021
 

It’s almost that time of the year. And promises to be another year of me staying put. I so do not want that to be the case… but I have too many things cooking at the moment and cannot afford to get out of the kitchen :( ... a variety of permutations and combinations could also lead to very different tracks so again have to wait and watch and then decide… let’s see… things are going to be interesting one way or another.

I had always looked forward to one milestone (among many others) and it feels a little odd that it just passed and I haven’t really felt anything. I submitted my first co-authored paper to a journal! I guess I will feel something only when I know its fate. There are so many stories out there of papers getting rejected, taking aeons to publish, never seeing the light of the day, moving from journal to journal for a home, and so on that I suppose I want it to be low-key till I actually have something concrete underfoot.

I have been reflecting a lot of late on the question of identity. People speak of things being core to identity but I suppose identity can be pretty multi-dimensional and dynamic. There are situations when my Indianness feels very core to my identity, situations where my strong integrity does, sometimes my intellectual and reflective orientation,… it’s not this or that but everything… if you take any of these things out, I wouldn’t be me. The other day someone said something very negative about India and I felt my identity diminished, as if I needed to speak up in defence not for the country so much as for who I am. Then in another encounter someone made me feel like I hadn’t really accomplished enough or fast enough. It made me feel diminished. As if the potential invested in me that people expected me to fulfil was languishing because I wasn’t really getting on with it. All of these events coming one after another in the same space of time brought this deep reflection on identity. Of course, in principle I do subscribe to the idea that our identity cannot be determined or challenged by other people. It must be internally wired and internally driven. And yet, practically speaking, isn’t our identity thrown into the world also an attempt at projection… of who we are and therefore how we want to be perceived? If I am a person of integrity, wouldn’t it matter to me that I am also seen as such, not by every person, but in a general way? I suppose there is an interplay there in terms of who I am, how I act (in line with who I am or not), and how I want to be perceived… and a disconnect in any two could be a source of tension. If I act in a way that is not really who I think I am it causes me to reflect too. Perhaps also depends on how much value one places on consistency of character, self-reflection etc…


Saturday, October 23, 2021
 

Nowadays whenever something doesn’t work out as per my expectations or fizzles out, I ask myself, what can I learn from this? Earlier I would have simply blamed fate but now I think, wait a minute, fate is trying to tell me or teach me something. I might have been disappointed this time round but maybe this disappointment was necessary because I am yet to learn something. I need to think of this as an opportunity. As an opportunity to learn that lesson or I am going to be disappointed yet again. I guess I am taking this approach because when I look back on my life, like a meme I saw recently succinctly puts it, “the things that didn’t work out for me worked out for me”. When I think about what if two-three of my major disappointments hadn’t happened, I realise I would be on a completely different trajectory, and not one that I would choose over the one I am on now. To give an example, I was once extremely disappointed to not get a certain job which was in a different city than Mumbai where I lived. At that point I thought of it as a stellar career opportunity but now when I think of it, I wonder what the big deal was. The job I got after that was a million times better, and what is even better, it sort of paved the way for other things I wouldn’t have done if I had got that initial job. Also, I would have lived away from my family and now having lived away from my family for a few years I am glad I didn’t lose more time with them. So lesson number one is, I didn’t really lose anything then though I thought I did. And I learnt something from that episode.

In the present case too, I am telling myself that though it feels like the end of the world, it isn’t. What’s going to come after this will most likely be way better and maybe this was not the best time for this opportunity to materialise. I am also thinking of the many lessons I have learnt from this setback. It boils down to the fact that I must avoid a sense of entitlement. Yes, I do believe I deserve certain things and I do believe I could do more than justice to certain things, but to convert what I believe to what other people believe of me is a process, it can’t be a demand or an expectation. Obviously we all would like to be handed things on a plate but that’s not how the real world works and if that’s how it doesn’t work, I do not have cause to be disappointed. All in all, I must be more patient, more stoic, and more focused on the road rather than the destination. I generally am these things but sometimes when the destination seems to be just around the corner, I lose a sense of perspective. I just want to be there already. That can misfire because I lose energy and motivation when I realise it was a mirage. There are still more bends to be crossed and traversed. And the other thing is I must not think myself entitled to other people’s consideration. I am not wrong to think that if they believe in me and are on my side, they should show up and step up. But I must not put stock on it. If it happens, great. If not, too bad. That will help me remain grounded. That will help me remember that the only person you can ultimately count on showing up and stepping up, is you.

Maybe losing a battle or two is good preparation for winning the war…


Saturday, October 16, 2021
 

A while ago, someone I look up to, gave me a piece of advice. He said I should pick my battles because if everything is important to me then it could seem like nothing is. I understood his point but my counterpoint is this: we cannot be who we are in one thing or big things, it permeates everything if they are genuinely and earnestly held values. As Aristotle said, excellence is not an act but a habit and I become who I am because I follow through my principles consistently. It's to say that if I care about honesty, I am going to be motivated to be honest in general, not one day when hundreds of lives are at stake because that's who I am. If I think critically, I am going to apply it generally, not just in a high stakes essay.

However, lately I feel that my approach and the world I live in are not in sync. If I were living in ancient Greece where everyone was concerned about living a virtuous life and where engaging in philosophical contemplation was the highest form of life or life well lived, I would be living in my kind of world indeed. But the truth is I am living in a world where the average person's concerns stretch to how to spend the weekend, and beyond that to other materialistic life goals that are hard enough to achieve. Of course I have enough materialistic goals myself to make light of them. My point is not about having those goals but rather than people in today's world are all consumed by them. Thinking for the sake of learning or pursuing inquiry for the sake of discovery might be deemed a waste of time or time that doesn't fall into either fun or gain. It does fall into fun/pleasure/gain for me. It is why it never crosses my mind that I need to "pick a battle" or choose the things I belabour about because I don't see it as a battle at all; I see it as critical thinking or learning or discovering, for myself and the other person.

I am realising though that because I am at cross-purposes with others who want to simply get on with the everyday business of living life instead of wrestling with intellectual or moral or analytical conundrums, I need to modify my approach. Mainly because if there is no mutual pleasure in these explorations or no mutual concern with developing rigorous thinking habits, it is not something to be imposed on others. The question is how do I not lose myself while being respectful of others' divergent priorities? That's something I am chewing on. One technique could be to ponder or dive deep about things on my own without involving other people (unless they show interest)--which is where this blog comes in too. If they say something that is blatantly misguided, I could consider how important that particular point is in the overall scheme of things. Obviously to me it is very important because I'd rather know than not know. But like I said, such is not the case for most. There is a higher likelihood they will take offence or wonder why I am analysing such a small thing. In other words, I need to pick my battles. I need to think of ways to at least appear more in sync with the world if I am to not constantly collide with it, while keeping a space within myself to engage in what gives me true happiness.


Sunday, October 10, 2021
 

You have humbled me

Bent me

Reduced me

To tears

But not so fast

I am not broken

And I have been

Bent to breaking point

Before and before

But I rose

And followed

The path of proving

What I am made of

I could have

Crumbled and died

Even now

An exhausted part

In me asked

Why go on

To be torn and rent and spent

By mediocre tribes

Who themselves have

So very little

To speak for themselves

Who dare

Evaluate me

But the other part

The one who never quits

Never gives up

Reminded me

Of when

I was bent

Before and many times before

And how I rose up

Soaring in the very faces

That looked down on me

And it was beneath me

Even to laugh

At these mediocrities

And now again

God brings me

To this brink

To this tiring path

Shall I give up

How many times do I

Keep proving, God?

Isn't it time finally

For my reward

But clearly not

For I must yet again

Choose

And deep down I know

I will stay on course

What if I have no reward

To motivate me

The thought

Of proving them wrong

Will carry me

They who think

I am down and out

Shall see me

Rise again

Beyond their

Feeble grasp

 

~Me


Sunday, October 03, 2021
 

I engaged a Person A and a Person B for some contractual work in two different cultural contexts. The difference in the way they approached their jobs intrigued me. Even more so because Person A’s fees was around 50 pounds and Person B’s over 500. Obviously with Person B, my expectations were much higher and the job far more critical.

Person A’s approach I would describe as ‘personal’. She was actually trying to close a deal for me for more than a year now. Though the payment is based on a closed deal, the amount of effort she had to go through for over a year with deals going half-way and not materialising or falling through seemed to me far beyond what one would expect within the scope of such work. But not even once did she tell me that she was doing more than what she is expected to and not even once did she ask me for compensation during the year. In fact, she paid certain bills that I was due to pay without asking me to pay her first. Her attitude impressed me and made me think about the relationship I had with her in terms of trust rather than in terms of contractual agreement. I also thought to myself that I would pay her more than what we might have initially agreed. I suppose that’s how you feel when someone goes above and beyond.

Coming to Person B, the experience was exactly the opposite. I would describe the approach as ‘transactional’. Not going into much detail I would say that the focus here was on the number of hours worked or billed, and not on ensuring that the spirit of the contract, which was to deliver up to my standard, was honoured. To deliver in a way that it delights or makes the customer finally happy even if it means working more hours is what Person A did. That is my personal approach too because ultimately I am more concerned with the fact that my work is appreciated rather than that I am paid more. Many times I have even been gently scolded for this but I don’t think I would like to be like Person B. If anything, Person A made me see the merit of the personal approach even more clearly, to not count minutes and pennies... And even if one is looking at gain, I think Person A will always profit more in the long run because I will keep going to her and I will recommend her services to whoever will ask and I will be there for her should she need me for anything anytime. However, my first interaction with Person B is also my last. Short-term gain maybe, but long-term loss.


Monday, September 20, 2021
 

I am not a spontaneous person when it comes to action but sometimes I make up for it in communication with rather disastrous results. I lay much stock by directness and honesty but it seems to me it can take the shape of unkindness if I am not careful. Recently I made a comment on social media which later I couldn’t really justify to myself. This is strange because logic is sort of the spirit that animates whatever I say so it is rarely, if ever, that I can’t explain the logic of what I said. The logic may be open to contestation but it would still be logical from my perspective. In this case, I didn’t think what I said was all that logical if I saw it from a broader perspective—which I tend to do. But what’s more, it also seemed like an unkind statement to me. To say something illogical out of kindness would also be logical to me in a sense but to say something illogical and unkind… now that stumped me. One explanation could be that I have too many things on my mind these days and that perhaps caused me to not think through what I was saying.

Later someone responded to me to mind my own house first because they thought my statement had the same inconsistencies that I was pointing out unkindly. That wasn’t strictly true and I said as much but something about the exchange lingered in my mind… I pride myself on my ability to think critically but this made me ponder: 1. How can I develop a mode of critiquing that shows a sensitivity to human fallibilities including my own, and 2. Given that any piece of anything can potentially be critiqued in one way or another for something or the other, how do I direct my critique to the productive or progressive rather than merely corrective or irrelevant?

Like the ancient Romans commanded the words “Memento Mori” (“remember that you must die”) to be whispered into their ears to keep them grounded, so too I will whisper these words, “mind your own house first” to myself when I deploy my critique. I admire humility in others and this might be a way to incorporate some myself.


Friday, September 17, 2021
 

I didn’t realise it was THIS long since I have ignored the blog. I have been very preoccupied with something. I cannot say what it is but when it comes about you might be one of the first to know. Some of my previous posts refer to the “journey” I am on so to speak and I am navigating the twists and turns—in a positive way so far—is all I can say for now.

Recently when I was thinking about destiny, as I do, this Hindi kahawat (proverb) popped in my head: “daane daane pe likha hai khaane waale ka naam”. Meaning, on every grain of rice is written the name of the one who will eat it. As I contemplate whether certain grains of rice are going to come my way, I tell myself that it is already written, whether they will come or not. All I can do is to do my best and hope that the outcome is written in my favour. I have mentioned this before that the very thinking so or believing that it is in my favour could cause my actions to be better positioned for that outcome… which is why I hope for the best. Let’s see…


Friday, August 20, 2021
 

I chanced upon this short story Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. I found it quite absorbing but more than that it touched me on an emotional level. It is about this young man, Charlie, who is intellectually underdeveloped and who is made a participant in a psychological experiment to exponentially increase intelligence. The entire story is in the form of “progress reports”, something like diary entries, that Charlie writes from the beginning of the experiment to the end. I do not want to get into the end in case you, dear reader, feel tempted to read this story for yourself. What I found really poignant is how his new-found intelligence makes Charlie see the world in a very different light. Simple as the story is, it actually made me think about how different cognitive capacities engage with and interpret the world, and how their ability to make sense of it in one way or another might cause them to experience life itself differently.

 

Here’s an excerpt:

"All right! All right, you dope," shouted the owner, "don't just stand there!

Get the broom and sweep that mess up. A broom… a broom, you idiot! It's in the kitchen. Sweep up all the pieces."

The boy saw that he was not going to be punished. His frightened expression disappeared and he smiled and hummed as he came back with the broom to sweep the floor. A few of the rowdier customers kept up the remarks, amusing themselves at his expense.

"Here, sonny, over here there's a nice piece behind you ..."

"C'mon, do it again ..."

"He's not so dumb. It's easier to break 'em than to wash 'em ..."

As his vacant eyes moved across the crowd of amused onlookers, he slowly mirrored their smiles and finally broke into an uncertain grin at the joke which he obviously did not understand.

I felt sick inside as I looked at his dull, vacuous smile, the wide, bright eyes of a child, uncertain but eager to please. They were laughing at him because he was mentally retarded.

And I had been laughing at him too.

Suddenly, I was furious at myself and all those who were smirking at him. I jumped up and shouted, "Shut up! Leave him alone! It's not his fault he can't understand! He can't help what he is! But for God's sake ... he's still a human being!"

The room grew silent. I cursed myself for losing control and creating a scene. I tried not to look at the boy as I paid my check and walked out without touching my food. I felt ashamed for both of us.

How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes—how such people think nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence. It infuriated me to think that not too long ago I, like this boy, had foolishly played the clown.

And I had almost forgotten.

I'd hidden the picture of the old Charlie Gordon from myself because now that I was intelligent it was something that had to be pushed out of my mind. But today in looking at that boy, for the first time I saw what I had been.

I was just like him!

Only a short time ago, I learned that people laughed at me. Now I can see that unknowingly I joined with them in laughing at myself. That hurts most of all.

I have often reread my progress reports and seen the illiteracy, the childish naïveté, the mind of low intelligence peering from a dark room, through the keyhole, at the dazzling light outside. I see that even in my dullness I knew that I was inferior, and that other people had something I lacked—something denied me. In my mental blindness, I thought that it was somehow connected with the ability to read and write, and I was sure that if I could get those skills I would automatically have intelligence too.

Even a feeble-minded man wants to be like other men.

A child may not know how to feed itself, or what to eat, yet it knows of hunger.



Sunday, August 15, 2021
 

I was at Sainsbury's today to do my fortnightly "big shop" as they call it here. Yes, I know I have been referring to supermarkets, foods, etc. a lot these days but what with pandemic enforced living, it's not a surprise I assume? :) But to move on... I love grocery shopping in general (even before the pandemic ;)) and one of the things I enjoy is browsing through novel items. I usually pick one or two things that I haven't tried before, say a new variety of biscuit or chips (crisps here) or cheese or what have you. It's always a bit of a gamble-- either I'll find something I like so much that it will become part of my routine shop or I will hate it so much that I'll either force myself to eat it somehow or I'll reluctantly and guiltily throw it away. Today when I was picking something interesting and a bit on the expensive side, I was hit with a pang of anticipated guilt in case it's not to my taste. And then I thought to myself that I wouldn't be able to broaden my tastes or learn about new foods if I didn't take such risks. I decided to chalk up the expense to learning something new.

This led to a light bulb realisation. The more monetary risks I am able to afford, the more I am able to learn! Take for example starting a new venture and the learning that comes with it even if one fails or going for an expensive training programme, being okay with not making use of that knowledge. The more one is able to give oneself up to new experiences without worrying about the costs involved, the more one learns and the more one grows in that sense.

Of course, I don't mean to say this spending is the only path to learning. In fact, not having resources could mean one learns a completely different set of skills formidable in their own way. Creative problem solving, for example. One can't get something new easily so one tries to make creative use of what one already has. In this food context, maybe you make new dishes of stuff you have in the kitchen instead of buying something new.

Which brings me to another of my points. Because I have been brought up in a household and environment where we lived in relative austerity, where we learnt never to waste or throw away food, where we utilised things to the extent we could and found use for the leftovers even... It doesn't quite sit well with me to waste or discard anything and that is why I feel extremely guilty if I have to do it.

I have come to the conclusion though that neither extreme is good. To waste things indiscriminately without a second thought is not good and to be so hung up about conserving things that your enjoyment and pleasure doesn't count is also not good. I try to feel less guilty if I have to get rid of something that just doesn't give me any joy. I also try to use more discretion so I don't have to waste or get rid of anything, and if I have to, then I give some thought to possible uses before I do it. It never feels easy on my conscience to waste or throw or discard.

Interestingly, it strikes me that the two ways in which learning occurs that I just put forward can be distilled to abundance or scarcity with regard to money. Suggests the kind of times we live in?


Saturday, August 14, 2021
 

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.

~ J. R. R. Tolkein


Thursday, August 12, 2021
 

Expectations. They always trip me up. Is it possible to not have expectations of anyone who means anything to us? Maybe this is why it's liberating to be indifferent to people; you have no expectations and you are never disappointed. At best there are lovely surprises and at worst it's water down the duck's back. It doesn't matter.

But even the most indifferent person can't help but have a few people who are close to their heart. And you have expectations from those few people. And you will be disappointed. Not because they want to disappoint you or don't want to meet your expectations... but mostly because different people have different ways to show they care, to show you matter to them. It might seem like they fall short of your expectations if that's all you are focusing on but if you focus on their actions instead maybe you will see they are trying very hard to meet your expectations in their own way. Sometimes we lose sight of this... or at least I do. We prefer to believe people couldn't care less and we want to convince ourselves they don't. We want to look for what confirms these beliefs than that which is to the contrary. It can be self-fulfilling sometimes. Maybe it's good to keep our expectations aside even when we have them... and let people choose their own kind of way to our hearts.


Sunday, August 08, 2021
 

My house smells of milk today. A large can jumped out of the fridge while I was arranging all my groceries. It was a shock in the moment because I rarely tend to have such accidents. A river of milk started flowing and crawling all over the floor while I just stared mutely realising that this was the first time in my life—very strangely—that I would have to singlehandedly cope with such an event. I froze with the thought of how to fix it. If you have done it before you know what to do but for me this was unprecedented. I first tried cleaning it with tissue papers and it was evidently a bad idea. Then I got a towel and squeezed it into a bucket. Memory very faintly suggested that that's what people did back home. It worked. Slowly I realised that I have a mop and bucket and that would sort this even better. So I finally cleaned up the remaining white patches and blotches with a mop. 

I guess when something unexpected happens we are transported to similar experiences we might have had earlier. This milk incident sort of made me think about how whenever something like this occurred back home there were always people who "took care of it". Magically everything that needed to be done was done. Today it felt like I was confronting this "problem" for the first time with none of those who just dealt with it around... it felt strange. Unlike theoretical problems that I resolve as a matter of course every day, this practical problem made me feel a bit stumped because I had very little history of dealing with it. Which is why I felt a little proud of myself for rising to the occasion albeit a bit late. I know what to do if it happens again so I feel like I gained something. But at the same time I felt my heart grow a bit heavy… thinking of those who took on all practical worries to give me a life of some ease…


Monday, August 02, 2021
 

I was watching this Spanish Netflix series Three Days of Christmas which started with a thought that's been on my mind. It said that we truly live only in childhood, after that it's just memories. Lately when I go to sleep I have flashes of memories of all sorts of past events, moments, times. It's like a pastiche of ordinary and poignant stuff, and me looking on at myself... wishing I could go back and relive some of these moments. I feel like I didn't fully appreciate them. I don't know if it's the pandemic that's brought this on because it all starts with me wishing I could be home... and then thinking about people at home, our former times... I don't know if things were normal I would still be experiencing this yearning for the old, or if it's just a regular part of growing older... where the more time elapses, the more memories beckon. Or maybe it's just me... this blog isn't named nostalgica for nothing ;)

What if we had two lives and we could apply the lessons we learnt in one life to the next? Some would say that already happens if you were to believe in rebirth, but then you don't consciously remember anything so how do you apply the lessons? What if one could remember, what if you didn't have only one shot at everything, what if you could do things all over again... what would you do differently? Like some sort of hindsight being applied forward. In the other life new events would happen so how useful would this hindsight really be? Don't we keep making the same mistakes even though we learn lessons in the past? Some we do, some we don't.

I would cherish a lot of moments more, I feel... but what would it mean to cherish them more? I couldn't make them stop! How would it be to cherish more if I  just thought of it as a moment I love and that won't come back...wouldn't it be even less of living that specific moment? The hard fact is there's nothing one can do to hold or grasp a moment... it slips like sand from our fingers as they say. Maybe these memories I have, that is the only thing one can cherish... like the feel of the sand even after it slips through... that no one can take away from me.


Saturday, July 24, 2021
 

Recently something struck me when I was looking through the shelves at Marks and Spencer’s for my usual desert option, jam and cream horns. I tried to imagine the taste of this desert and I didn’t feel particularly stimulated or excited. I realised that I was going for it mainly because it is tried and tested. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it spectacularly and in fact the last few times I have bought it I have almost felt… nothing. So why do I choose to buy it and not something different, something I have never tasted, something whose taste I can’t even imagine… maybe it would surprise me? Thus goaded, I pushed myself to buy something completely different, ended up buying a blueberry jam filled muffin, and was severely disappointed. I got my answer right there ;) The jam and cream horns may not take me to heaven for the nth time now but they won’t make me fall flat on earth either.

Since having this realisation, I have been consciously testing it on other stuff. I have this yearning for ice cream when I watch Netflix after dinner. It happens to be really late in the night say 1.00 am or so and I try to divert my thoughts to other things like fruit but my mind keeps conjuring the image of an ice cream. In spite of deciding to have it only over weekends almost every night I have to ward off thoughts of ice cream :( But when I try to consciously imagine the taste of ice cream I get the sense that I am almost compelled to think about it out of custom rather than because I actually want to have it.

I am not sure how to interpret this. I mean, I obviously do enjoy the jam and cream horns and ice cream—I take particular care to buy the exact brand and flavour of ice cream I like after all. But there’s something else to it and I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s about sort of doing something for the sake of doing it because I have done it before. The buying or having a different thing feels quite distressful compared to the comfort of knowledge and routine; it’s like one is seeking that comfort rather than the thing itself.


Friday, July 16, 2021
 

I am coming to the end of a long journey soon. Maybe it will take more than a few months but there is an end looming in the distance, the summit is finally visible, the last few miles have to be traversed. I must soon be there. The hardest stretch is behind me now and if I am at this point I am likely to reach the end. What happens after that is another matter but a big milestone would have been achieved...

Even when I didn't have the end in sight, unlike most people who worry about scaling the summit, my concern was always about the stage after that. I knew that no matter what or when, I would reach that goal if I kept going. I never had any doubt about eventually reaching it because all things remaining the same it seemed to be largely in my control. The phase after that though seems like unknown territory where I am going to need all the help I can get from the fates...

I don't want to seem churlish and annoy fate. I have had an illusion of control all this while because all things did stay the same more or less, discounting the pandemic of course ;) If they hadn't, I couldn't have single-mindedly focused on the mountain. Fate has been very kind to me indeed no matter how much I complain. It has been kindest to me in bringing me a source of support on this journey. I might have made this journey anyway but I wouldn’t be able to look back and forward with the sort of positivity and gratitude that I feel now. For that I have much to thank fate.

Maybe the future uncertain and difficult phase will also sort itself out. I wrote a post at the start of this journey that I intend to "be like the sparrow" referred to in the Bible. It does not have a care in the world and is still taken care of. Can't say it's in my nature to "not have a care" but I must remind myself that I have been cared for like the sparrow through this all... there is no reason why I won't be when it comes time to test my wings a bit more...