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.
...........hmmm....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

Sunday, April 21, 2019

If I were to close my eyes and think back to the best times of my life, the one memory that always forms a part of this patchwork flashback is of summer vacations in Mangalore. And this memory revolves around an ancestral house in Ambalapady where my grandmother used to live... and where I was treated as the fondest grand-daughter of the family.
The days used to have a warm texture around them and I would wind myself around the routines of older people… I enjoyed being with grown-ups when I was little for some reason…not so much being around younger kids or kids my age. I loved listening to their stories…sitting like a happy dog beneath my aunts’ feet or on their laps. Sometimes I would beg them to let me try their activities like cutting vegetables or rolling the grindstone or scraping the coconut leaves for making broom sticks or going to the shops to get small groceries… my grandmother used to say that when I grew older she would ask me to do these things and let’s see how eager I would be then… I looked forward to as well as dreaded the rains because they would occur almost toward the end of the vacation in June… though I didn’t like to keep count of the days, I knew that rains meant that I was going to leave soon… I enjoyed sitting in the courtyard watching the droplets plop on the cemented yard… or running in the backgarden collecting mangoes in a large tub…. In the afternoons, I rarely slept like all the older people… I would quietly slip into the bedrooms and try on my aunts’ clothes or makeup or rummage through old stuff in cupboards and storerooms… I would find all sorts of things that piqued my interest…it was almost like a treasure hunt for me… I would bring back a few gems with me to Mumbai… other times I would use this opportunity to hunt for jaggery or nuts or anything else I could chance upon… the ice-cream man would make his appearance around this time for some unknown reason… so one had to actually wake a sleeping mom or aunt for some coins… but this was the best time to have something cool… the sun being scorching hot at this time of the day… there were no ACs in Mangalore then… but I don’t remember it being unbearable… the electricity was also extremely moody… here now, gone now… people would break into a sweat and wake up to notice that the fan had gone quiet… the quiet after the whirring sound of the fan itself would be enough to wake one up if not the unrelenting heat at the height of summer…
My grandmother would be up 3.30 pm sharp like an alarm had gone off… and her first task would be to milk the cow… I would run behind her to the shed to watch her… the shed was at the back of the house… leading to the large backgarden… where there were two wells… a cemented area to wash vessels… lots of mango trees, jackfruit trees, banana trees, breadfruit trees, lemon trees, and others I don’t know the name of… this backgarden looked on either side to neighbours’ backgardens divided by a short wall that ran throughout… you could chat with neighbours across the wall…
Everyone would lazily climb out of bed once they knew grandmother was up… one of my aunt’s would start making coffee (we had tea in the morning and coffee in the evening)… there was something special about coffee made with fresh milk… I can’t put my finger on it… but then there was something very special about everything that my grandmother made and that was made in that home… I almost remember the taste … no one can make anything quite the same… my mom probably comes closest to it… most of the ingredients would be grown at home… like the simple dish made with ripe mangoes… all that went into it was mustard seeds, curry leaves, coconut oil, coconut, chillies… but it tasted like heaven… with brown boiled rice… after coffee, grandmother and aunts would pull water from the well in what we call a ‘kollso’ … an aluminium vessel narrow at top where it was tied up with a rope and wide at the bottom like one half of an hourglass… I would try my hand at this too and perching the vessel at my side I would walk with them to pour the water around the trees… all the while some talk or gossip would be going on… and then we would all come back to sit in the front yard …watching the gathering dusk, the passers-by, the buses, the fisher-folk… feeling a contentment that was sublime for want of another word…
There was a tradition of saying prayers before dinner… everyone would join in the prayers… dinner was by 9 or 9.30 at the most… they would discuss what to have for breakfast the next day while preparing for bed… I used to chip in with options and they would take my ideas seriously of course…gossip would continue till it seemed like everyone had nodded off… I would call out to them just to check if someone was game to chat with me because then as now I was a late sleeper…I couldn’t wait for it to be morning again… to enjoy the pleasant routines again… to be enveloped in the lovely simplicity of those times again… I would give anything…
When I was a little older, maybe 14 or 15… and my grandmother had passed away and the house locked up (my aunts were all married and uncles lived in their own homes)… I told myself that one day I would buy and own the house… I think about that resolution now with the wisdom of years and I realise how foolish it was….that somehow I thought I would be able to relive those memories if I had the house… I attached the memories to the house… to something tangible… all these years so many things have changed that not only is the house a poor shadow almost unrecognisable from what it was… nothing about even the town remains the same… modernity has wormed its way there as much as everywhere else… but even if that hadn’t been the case… I realise now that I actually already own the house… I own what was most precious about that house to me in my heart and in my soul… it has made me who I am… I carry the house with me… it could never be taken away from me even if the house is torn down… it would only go down when I am gone…
The Notre Dame fire made me feel quite emotional…. I have never been there but just the idea of what it stood for and what was destroyed made me feel sad… people ask why there was so much outcry for a building, why the outpouring of grief or generosity… but it seems to me that it wasn’t ‘just’ a building… like my ancestral house wasn’t just a house for me…it stood for a part of me that I cherished… I feel that the spaces of our making sometimes make us… and there is something honourable in remaking them… if only to be held as symbols of what we are made through them… for the generations after us…
Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Our choices are our destiny

Have you heard the story of the drowning man and God? Here is the gist: A man caught up in a terrible storm climbs to the rooftop of his house. He fervently prays to God to save him. A rowboat comes along and asks the man to hop on. The man responds saying that he won’t because he is expecting God to save him. He keeps praying. A motorboat passes his way and offers to help him. Again the same response that God will help him. After some more time has passed, a helicopter hovers over his head and motions to him frantically. Our man again responds that he’d rather wait for God to take him to safety. The storm builds up at this point and the man drowns. On reaching heaven he asks God why he did not save him in spite of his faith. God tells him that he tried to save him thrice—he sent two boats and a helicopter!

Now, this story, simple as it sounds seems pretty profound to me. It calls into question the idea of destiny (if we think of God’s plan as destiny) and whether that destiny fulfils itself no matter what we do or whether we are supposed to meet it halfway. I think which side of the fence one is on makes a significant difference to how one lives one’s life. The former idea would mean that no matter what one does, one will be led to one’s destiny. Even if you don’t do anything, things will come to you if they are meant to. The latter idea makes one feel responsible for steering one’s life towards what it is destined for…you know that there is something that is meant for you, but you will have to work your way towards it or make the right decisions that take you there. You feel the weight of the responsibility and you have to do the work…in a sense destiny appears to be a reward for your determination and perseverance in search of it. It is not that there is no destiny in this scheme of things but you need to be able to create an opportunity for it to do its bit or be attuned to the various ways in which opportunities might present themselves.

The thing is that in real life all this is a lot more complicated than it seems. Unlike the man in the story, we do not have straightforward goals like being saved in a storm (sometimes we don’t even know what our goals are) and we do not usually have straightforward paths presented to us like the three people who came along to rescue the man (there are innumerable paths). And when you add not having clear goals or not being able to prioritise goals to not having clear cut paths before us, life can seem like a chaotic maze of decisions and responsibilities where the option of simply letting things happen as they will seems like an easier if not a less stressful option. At the most destiny meets us along the way, and at the worst it doesn’t and we console ourselves with the heartening notion that if it is to be, it will be—there’s nothing we can do. There is a beautiful song in Hindi which captures this sentiment, “Waqt se pehle, kismat se jyaada… Kisiko milahai, na kisi ko milega” (Before one’s time, more than destiny…no one has ever received, no one ever will).

Clearly, if nothing is gained by striving, and if one will surely get only what is destined for one, why strive at all? Why not live contentedly or grudgingly as the case may be with whatever one has or whatever one is? Why desire for more, why make goals, why be ambitious, why formulate projects, why work hard at them…? You see where this line of thinking can lead? To me it seems to lead in the opposite direction of destiny… which is mediocrity.

In my view, only those who have the courage to find their destiny…or work through the maze of goals and choices and obstacles and disappointments…ultimately meet it. Destiny might be waiting for everyone… but it fulfils its promise only for those who are tuned into or create opportunities for it to manifest and those who work hard to make best use of those opportunities when they do manifest. Even if destiny doesn’t fulfil itself in the end (as it would be naïve to think that every honest effort will meet with success), this attitude itself I would argue makes a life worth living… because it is lived on its own terms …consciously and responsibly. As they say, if we can’t win, we must at least die fighting. Therein lies our reward, even if a cruel one.

Saturday, April 13, 2019
I was interacting with this girl since a few months in a professional context. Her name struck me as being European though her accent was quite distinctly American. I was curious to know more about how she acquired this accent but it might have seemed too forward of me to enquire in the presence of other people so I simply assumed she may have been brought up in the US or something like that. Her views also struck me as in some way American (or my impression of American) as was her overall demeanour which was confident and non-self-conscious. 

A few days ago we happened to be the only people in the room and I finally asked her if she was American. She laughed and said that she was from Hungary but she got that a lot. I asked her how she might have developed this accent… if she watched a lot of American TV shows or movies (I had found during my trip to Iceland that people there spoke in an American accent because of their high exposure to American media). She said that she rarely watched American shows; in fact, she watched more British stuff…only some American news on YouTube perhaps. She said that she found it quite curious herself that people thought she had an American accent and some even guessed it to be an Australian accent.

After this exchange, I couldn’t help asking myself if all along my perception of her accent had created some unconscious bias towards the content of her speech too. Which also made me wonder if five years ago, say before Trump, the American accent would have had a different kind of impact on me? I remember reading somewhere that Americans tend to automatically assume anything said in a British accent to be more cerebral or intelligent… which probably also shows that we tend to attach some sort of cultural value to an accent? And this cultural evaluation also keeps shifting perhaps in light of major media events such as in the case of the US?
All this led me to wonder, how do people in a global environment perceive the content of what I say by how I say it, that is, my Indian accent? My Indian accent is not at all pronounced (even if I say so myself! :)) but it is distinctly Indian for all that. So what effect does my Indian accent have on the way my message is received? It seems to me that it would be overly simplistic to say that people don’t go beyond the accent at all but I am of the view that it does play a role. If the message is considered as good as the cultural accent in which it is uttered, then for some it means less work because anything that is said would at least have a basic credibility, and for some it means a lot more work because they have to establish credibility of the message in a voice that is not perceived as credible in its own right.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

I was on the verge of stepping on a zebra crossing today to get to the other side of the road when I noticed a car taking a fast turn in my direction. This shouldn’t have mattered to me because the car is supposed to stop anyway but I have noticed that I generally tend to freeze and wait for the car to pass. The car usually notices me hovering uncertainly at the edge of the road and stops so that I may go ahead and use the crossing. Once the car has stopped I confidently cross the road. This doesn’t happen always but typically when a car seems to be speeding in my direction or if it takes that direction suddenly. Today, I couldn’t help but wonder why I tend to have this reflex (and maybe other Indians as well?).
It is a commonly understood fact that we are all a product of our respective environments but we never really realise how deeply this environment is ingrained in us, so much so, that even when we have left the environment, it doesn’t leave us. It is embodied in us so to speak. In certain situations we ‘act without thinking’ and this acting seems to be incongruent with our current environment because it is a mode of acting natural to a different environment where it was learnt as a matter of course.
To put it in practical terms, in Mumbai (as I have said before, when I say India, I mean Mumbai where I grew up) the road, traffic and safety situation is horrendous to say the least; only someone who has actually lived in the busiest parts of Mumbai can relate to what I mean perhaps. Crossing the road is an art as well as science: requires careful single-minded attention to both sides of the road, expert judgement in deciding the perfect moment to make a splash across the road, years of practice in manoeuvring around sundry vehicles that may be dashing along while you make a splash, and a lot of good faith in the one above (might explain why people in India are generally believers ;)). There is no concept of a ‘zebra crossing’, a word which first we encounter in children’s books, and which is as far removed from reality as fairies.
It is not surprising if after years and years of almost perfecting the art of ‘crossing the road’ and it becoming almost second nature, your feet seem to stop in their tracks whenever you’re in a situation that broadly invokes the same context (even if it is a different environment or country altogether). The old reflexes jump in automatically and your body seems to act almost without volition. Consciously you do know that this vehicle will stop and won’t ram into you if you’re on the zebra crossing as it could back home but it’s as if your body has a mind of its own, if you know what I mean; it takes time to grow out of its habitual way of responding to the same situation (one can see how this makes sense as a survival mechanism). A lifetime of learned moves cannot be unlearnt in a year or two or maybe even more.
The French sociologist Bourdieu whom I have been reading in the past two years in relation to my research and because of whom I have started thinking deeply about how culture shapes our thinking in conscious and unconscious ways, puts it very interestingly, “arms and legs are full of numb imperatives”. Indeed!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

I couldn’t help but wonder how sometimes we obsess over something that is missing in our lives, something if it were present would make our lives perfect, and something that we wish we could have…and then we imagine how life would be if we had it. Because we are so intently focusing on this ‘missing’ element, we don’t realise the value of the thing that we do have and that is making our present life pretty pleasant, if only we thought about it instead of the missing thing. It is only when this particular thing is on the verge of vanishing that it hits us that life wasn’t bad at all owing to this thing and maybe we could have actually enjoyed ourselves a bit more instead of worrying. And then we start to think of how life would be when this thing now vanishes and probably this becomes the next thing that you keep obsessing and worrying about instead of maybe learning the moral of the story…which is, that there might be something or the other that makes life worth living and we probably need to reflect on what that is rather than reflecting on what we’re missing… and count ourselves lucky to have it while we do.
To share an example: Ever since I arrived in the UK I have been wishing to make some like-minded friends with whom I could have the sort of warm friendship that makes one miss one’s family less. But as anyone who lives in the real world knows, this is a tall order at the best of times. I have generally been unlucky in the friends department…maybe this merits another blog to reflect on the whys and wherefores but one main reason could be that in Mumbai I certainly wasn’t surrounded by the likes of people I would want to be friends with. I did wonder if things might be different here but again the combination of circumstances I am in (what with research being highly isolating and all that) isn’t very conducive to making friends. I felt this was the one thing missing in my life that could potentially make everything so much more enjoyable. I somehow did not even notice much less appreciate or value the one or two good friendships that I did make because they didn’t map to this idealised version of friendship. I was pining for the ‘imaginary’ friendships so much so that I completely lost sight of the immense value that these real friendships brought into my life and that I almost took for granted. It was only when I learnt that I might be losing these friends very soon that it hit me… that in fact I had been lucky to have made these friendships, and if I had thought about it, they had actually made my life so much more pleasant.
I feel that instead of focusing on the non-existent elements in my life I need to try to look for beauty and harmony in what exists. Maybe then I will be able to savour life for what it is rather than in retrospect for what it was or for what it could be… It seems to me that this is probably a symptom of the human condition (or at least this one human’s condition ;)) that we seem to be perpetually caught in…we are not happy ‘in the moment’ because we are looking to the past with wistfulness or to the future with anxiety…we yearn for what we don’t have and when we get it we no longer value it or we don’t value what we do have and yearn for it after we have lost it!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A broken soul

A soul that is broken
And somehow woven
By delicate little threads
Invisible to the outside eye
But painful to the wearer
A stitch sometimes tears,
Sometimes stretches, sometimes edges
Close to breaking again
The wearer does not forget
What made it break
Yet neither does it remember
For it might break again
Shattering the illusion
Of being whole
But only to the outside world
Not to the world inside
That will never be whole again
A kind word, a noble gesture,
Makes it cry
A harsh word, an unkind gesture,
Makes it weep
Memories of long-forgotten fractures
erupt like a volcano
Frightening the poor soul
rushing out, rolling down
fragile eyes, warm cheeks
Melting softly…

Thursday, March 21, 2019

I had an experience a few days ago that has left me feeling very low. It has made me wonder about the ideal balance between criticism and praise. God knows I am guilty of tilting toward the former…but being a recipient of the same medicine has made me realise how bitter it can taste. I guess I, like most people, thought that I was deserving of at least some praise, and maybe I wasn’t. The reason I might have given only criticism and no praise, if I did, is because I felt there was nothing praiseworthy about something… but whenever I have found something to be praiseworthy I have always tried to convey it, or so I hope? Along with my criticisms. So one conclusion could be that there was nothing praiseworthy about what I did.
Assuming there was something remotely praiseworthy and assuming the concerned person knew that there was something, what could their sole focus on criticism be motivated by? I can only imagine that with all good intention they wanted me to focus on improvement rather than letting me get ahead of myself. The truth is though that had they given me even a little bit of praise and encouragement, I would have found their criticism so much easier to bear or digest or assimilate. I feel like I would have felt motivated to do better… to improve… to show that I was capable of a lot more…to aspire to more of their praise. But now… I feel… what for? Do better for what? To be told I had a long way to go? Improve for what…. To hear I could do even better? To aspire to what… more criticism?
I have always aimed to do well anything that I set out to do. If I am bad at something I will generally not do it—unless it’s something like housework and there’s no getting around it. But when it comes to anything I voluntarily do, I put my whole and soul into it…and I don’t do so for praise… I do it because I am almost compelled to… because it gives me internal satisfaction…. But I cannot deny that when such work is in a position to be evaluated, the evaluation means a terrible lot to me… it doesn’t mean that I work harder because I work as hard even if no one will evaluate it… but there is a different type of satisfaction that I look forward to in the end… one could call it praise, one could call it appreciation, one could call it a slap on the back, anything… but it makes a hell of a lot of difference to me… When I look back I think that I have not always been sensitive to how important praise or encouraging words are to people… and now when I was deprived of it… I felt only too keenly what it must feel like… to put yourself into something wholeheartedly believing you’re doing your best and to look forward to hear some good words… only to get none. Only criticism.
It is sad because I feel that when this happens not only do you stop looking forward to appreciation which means you lose a key source of motivation… but the opposite party loses even more… the opportunity to be a source of positive influence.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair
Hover through the fog and filthy air”
~ Shakespeare (Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 1, 12-13)
The first line popped into my head out of nowhere today. When I say nowhere I mean I haven’t read or thought of this line in a long time but somehow today it just bloomed inside my head like a flower… and it seemed to connect with something that I was thinking about quite a lot in the last few days. I find it very strange that this line that happens to perfectly sum up what I was reflecting on should find its way to the surface of my consciousness… it makes me think about how all the knowledge one gathers gets synthesised in the deep recesses of one’s mind.
I have been asking myself what one must do or could do to prove oneself to be a person of solid integrity if integrity is not a given. Obviously you could ask why I need to ‘prove’ my integrity to anyone at all because if it is there it will shine through. And that has in fact been my position so far. I have always believed that when you have integrity and when you are a person whose integrity is visible in your actions (not a hypocrite), it will be obvious sooner or later to anyone who comes into frequent contact with you—if this anyone also has integrity and the sense to recognise it when they see it. If a person doesn’t have integrity, I believe they won’t see it in others because it’s not in their radar. If a person has integrity it is not necessary that they have the moral intuition or intelligence to recognise it in others, though I somehow feel that if one consciously lives with integrity as a value then it must be because they have an evolved moral sense and they would be able to notice it in others. So… it seems to me that letting your integrity or honesty or uprightness speak for itself is a good idea… and I feel that this has always worked for me…so far. I have I should say never faced a situation where I have not earned the trust and good faith of anyone whose trust and good faith I valued—I valued it because they also had integrity. By contrast, it is usually the case that when a person does not have integrity themselves, not only do they not care about integrity, I also do not care to earn their good opinion…so it works both ways.
Well… so what is the problem now? It is that I am caught in a tricky situation where simply being myself appears to not be enough to demonstrate that I am a person of integrity and it also is that I do not know if the person to whom I wish to prove that I am a person of integrity is deserving of my trust and good faith… probably even they’re facing the same dilemma where they aren’t sure about my integrity and cannot convince me of their integrity because in the environment we’re in…fair is foul and foul is fair…you do not know whom to trust or how to signal your trustworthiness especially to those whose trust you wish to gain… hmm… have I made this sound very complicated? Since there is nothing much I can do anyway I will just do what I always did… be myself… and depend on the fact that integrity will win the day… one way or the other…

Monday, March 11, 2019
I’m not someone who likes small talk much but I’m very fond of conversation. You might ask what the difference is because one man’s small talk might be another man’s conversation… but for me there are a few things that make a conversation very distinct from small talk. For one, a conversation will go deep into a subject rather than merely skimming the surface and for two, a conversation isn’t a polite way to fill time nor is it necessarily ‘polite’ (now that’s small talk). Other things that come to mind… the topic of a conversation would have some level of resonance with both parties (without which they cannot really want to go into depth) and it would engage the mind in some way (in a way say the ‘weather’ can’t). I might have added that a conversation is usually had with someone you know well or reasonably well (or maybe wish to know well?) because it requires a certain amount of freedom of thought and expression…but I would grant that sometimes you may meet people whom you just launch into conversation with because something seems right.

Now, as is the way I seem to always begin my posts, I intend to talk about one thing and then talk about something entirely different. ‘Conversation’ itself was quite incidental to the point I had intended to make. That point is that these days it’s become almost impossible to have a conversation with most people because of the blooming mobile phone! I don’t know about you (dear reader, yes you!) but I tend to put my phone away when I am with company. I might check it once in a while but rarely and if I am actually in the middle of a conversation, I won’t check it at all. Even if I hear a beep or a ring. However, I have noticed for a while now that most people have one eye on the phone and the other ear on the conversation, and frankly, it’s not much of a conversation for me. Imagine animatedly talking about something or sharing something when the other person is intently staring at the phone, sometimes typing, sometimes scrolling, and sometimes even taking a call. It puts me off the conversation completely. I switch off from it, and many a times, from the person. I find it disrespectful to say the least, even if not meant as much, and I feel that it reduces a conversation to something less than even small talk…because with small talk both are equally engaged in something pointless but here only one person is engaged in something that may well not have a point.
What I have been noticing though is that it’s not just this person or that person or my brother (he’s a big culprit in this department) who does it but I would be hard pressed to think of anyone I know who actually doesn’t do it…apart from older folks like my mother or aunts who aren’t into smartphones or social media or obsessed with it. I also have a sense—though I might be wrong—that men do this more than women; I mean, women probably are on the phone as much or more than men but when in the middle of a conversation they tend to be a bit more tactful (though it is quite possible that they’re mentally distracted anyway).
It seems to me that all this has taken the joy out of conversations. Which is why nowadays when I meet people who actually listen and converse intently without peering into the phone every few seconds, I feel really pleased. There is a lot to be said about the virtual world but I’m of the opinion that it should complement one’s experiences in the real world rather than diminishing it… which is unfortunately what seems to be happening…

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Upon a Sweet Interlude

Dare I hope this were true
I fear not.
Dare I know what I knew
I think not.
Dare I believe I have a clue
I guess not.
Dare I dream this was more
than just a sweet interlude
I fear not, I think not, I guess not!
What if the heart hopes, knows, and believes…
what it dare not?

Friday, March 08, 2019

I have been grappling with a deadline since I got back to the UK. Now that that is ‘out of my system’ as we used to say in my corporate days, I feel a bit peaceful and at rest. The trouble is I seem to have more ideas to share when I am in a state of ‘busy-ness’ than when I am at rest but guess it’s only my mind trying to tempt me with other thoughts when I should be focusing on one thing alone.
One of the things that I have been meaning to talk about for a while is the ‘charity shop’ concept that I discovered here. Basically shops affiliated to large charities that accept and then sell second hand-clothing at low prices. This concept seems to have existed here for very long but it seems to be gaining in mainstream popularity now what with the emphasis on sustainable living and the ‘Marie Kondo’ effect (that reminds me I had something to say on the topic of Marie Kondo too). I found the whole idea of charity shop shopping extremely surprising when first I heard of it. I remember in my early days here chatting with two friends (one of them more of an acquaintance) and this acquaintance from Spain had a wedding to attend soon so she said rather nonchalantly, “Let’s visit the charity shops over the weekend for a dress”. That’s when I realised that most ordinary people shopped at charity shops here and not necessarily those who couldn’t afford to shop elsewhere.
I guess this came as a surprise to me from an Indian cultural perspective. There is something of a ‘stigma’ attached to wearing second-hand clothes (here they are called ‘pre-loved’) in India unless it belongs to a close or distant relative. Generally one gives away one’s clothes to siblings or cousins or other relatives if they’re in great condition but if you don’t know anyone whom they might fit or have a use for them or if they’re a bit too old, you would give them away to maids or anyone else you know who would ‘accept charity’ or in short, the ‘poor’. You could even donate them at the local church from where it is again distributed amongst the poor. One could always argue that charities also exist to ultimately help some or the other section of society so instead of focusing on some specific cause one is generally helping those in need. And it wouldn’t be a completely invalid argument except that I am at present interested in the perception surrounding ‘second-hand clothes’ rather than the purpose of charity.
It seems that in India because clothes are generally donated to the ‘poor’ there is a sort of discomfort about the idea of ‘second-hand’ or ‘used’ clothes’ as it is automatically associated with financial distress. Here comes another peculiar aspect of Indian culture. Middle class folks in India lay so much store by success that being poor is seen as something to be ashamed of or a personal failure of some sort. When you look at it like that… it seems rather natural that second-hand clothing has never had much acceptance. On the other hand, donating second hand clothes to those beneath one’s status is quite common no doubt because it helps elevate one’s status as well as moral profile into the bargain.
I find the concept of the ‘charity shop’ in the UK far more democratic in this sense—it brings together everyone, rich or poor, in the collective mission of contributing to some particular cause while also getting people to think about the value of things in a more conscious way (apart from giving access to a wide variety of well-preserved quality clothes at cheap prices). It also doesn’t create or engender class distinctions between ‘givers’ or ‘patrons’ and ‘takers’ or ‘receivers of benevolence’. To me just the idea that I as an ordinary person may give away something to a charity shop and I as an ordinary person could buy something from a charity shop as I would buy from anywhere else (while helping a cause) involved a shift in thinking about myself as a ‘class of person’ who is in a position to give or a position to receive. It made me think about ‘things’ in a more collective sense and how we could maximise the use of such ‘things’ rather than adding to the collective waste. Made me think of the phrase ‘circle of virtuosity’…

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

I have always loved looking at the night sky full of stars and a solitary moon. Looking at the night sky in Dubai on my last day the idea, very obvious though it is, struck me suddenly that though the sky looks so different in my perch in Lancaster in the UK… it has to be the same moon staring back at me as this one… and it is the same moon that stared back at me in Mangalore when I was there for about a week or so… I couldn’t help thinking about how very different all these versions of the moon looked…. In Mangalore it looked a bright and fiery red at a great distance from me across the sea but across …not up… it felt like if I were to walk or sail a long distance, I might be able to reach it…. In Dubai it looked quite white and far above my head…. I had to tilt my head all the way down to see it…. In Lancaster it always looks like it’s hiding behind the two-storey house opposite me…. not somewhere in the sky above…. In colour it’s closer to the Dubai moon… I guess because it seems so different depending on where I am looking at it from it sort of never struck me so hard before…. That they are all the same moon…. What actually made me think about this is the rather sweet idea that when my mom looks at the moon in Dubai and I look at it from Lancaster, both of us would be looking at the same thing… I found the thought very sweet and comforting when I was feeling a bit sad about leaving home…it made me feel like I wasn’t going to be that far away if there was something we both could see from where we were… it’s quite strange that I should find comfort in this rather foregone fact but it’s funny how I never really thought of it in quite this way before…

Saturday, January 19, 2019
Special day today :)
Guess I have mentioned before… I organise my holidays to spend my birthday with the family… it’s never been so far, in spite of my travels and stay abroad, that I missed even a single time. Though the members of my family have expanded and contracted and spread out in recent years… I try to at least be around the core which happens to be my mom…
I somehow tend to feel wistful and nostalgic on this day, not sure why…where most people are perhaps joyful and happy on their special days, I tend to feel a rather sweet sadness, if that makes sense…not that I remember all or indeed most of my birthdays...I remember certain moments, fragments, scraps, snapshots… but the one feeling I remember overwhelmingly is this feeling of wistfulness… as of something passing that could never be got back but not really knowing if it was worth holding onto, as of wondering what the next year might bring, as of seeing myself as through a prism of time… reflection, contemplation…that’s the mood I usually find myself in… I woke up today thinking to myself that in my younger years I focused on what special things I would do on my birthday… but now I feel thankful if it’s a generally nice day… if I am surrounded by loving people and a cocoon of comfort and warmth… I guess I couldn’t ask for more and if more there be, I would treat it as a bonus… not as something I have a right to demand…
Over the years I have realised that everything must be treated as a boon and blessing… I am entitled to nothing… I feel like it’s made me a more humble person… more detached in a good way… less bound up in expectations… I feel even more grateful when people do nice things for me because I realise it must come purely from the heart… it’s these moments where you feel deeply touched by people’s love and kindness that make life truly worth living… like you have earned something…like you have done something right…a much younger me though sensitive to this may not have felt it as keenly…as I do now.
I feel like I might have started off wanting to build a more rooted and material life…more grounded on solid earth... but having been thrust onto a different path….full of uncertainties, unpredictability, experiences, novelties, difficulties, surprises…I realise now that life is so much richer in movement rather than stationary… so much pleasure in owning memories and experiences rather than worldly contraptions and things… so much joy in enriching one’s mind and heart rather than home…that is probably the biggest lesson I have learnt so far…

Thursday, December 20, 2018
In Dubai! This is the time I usually visit my family, and my family for all intents and purposes has moved to Dubai for now… so here I am!

Would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas… seems a bit of an apt occasion for a ‘religious’ post… and though this post is not exactly that, it’s probably as close as I will ever get…

Be like the sparrow! 

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” ~ Matthew 10:29-31

I have many a times written about how I find it difficult to blindly ‘believe’ or have ‘faith’ like many do. I do not have confidence in the existence of God (though I would very much like to) but I cannot say that I reject his existence outright. As they say, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I have not seen or met or heard God, and it is also difficult for me to accept that the Bible is written by the hand of God. In fact, I think it’s better that it is not because the way the Bible portrays God—particularly in the Old Testament—is not how I would like to imagine a loving and caring God to be, if he were to exist. One could say that the Bible symbolises those times but this would be illogical to me because then it would mean it was written by man like many other historical documents and not directed by the hand of God. If God is the creator of times himself, he would surely say things or make man say things that would transcend time. He would not, I would imagine, have human limitations. Well, you see why it’s difficult for me to believe…

But I was trying to make a point from the opposite camp. The reason I shared the introductory quote is because oddly it has had a powerful effect on me. Not as a quote but as an idea that got passed on to me at Sunday school (a religious class for Catholic kids) and somehow vaguely stayed afloat in my consciousness. It is only fairly recently that I actually verbalised this idea to myself when I decided to embark on a particularly risky venture as it seemed to me (but I find most ventures risky!) in the words “be like the sparrow!” It has an emotive as well as action element to it when put this way and what I impress upon myself through this imperative phrase is that if sparrows can go about their business without a care for the future seeing as God looks after them, I very well can… because he very well looks after me too! I need to throw caution to the winds and “be like the sparrow”. Sometimes when I am overthinking about what might happen in a dire situation or when am not sure what action to take because I don’t know what would be the outcome, this phrase just pops into my head. This doesn’t mean that the next minute I simply do what I am not sure about doing but it gives me some comfort, to be honest… that things will be alright… just trust yourself and go ahead.

I know… it might seem strange that given what I said about my lack of confidence and faith, I invoke a trust and faith in God in moments when things are not in my control. I cannot really explain it except that it feels good to think that someone up there will take care of me as much as he takes care of the little sparrows. It affords me an inner strength that comes from having a psychological safety net in a largely unpredictable world. Come to think of it, isn’t that how religions were born… as Voltaire said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him” … I very much agree.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

One of the reasons I like reflecting about things on my blog as opposed to any other social media platform is because it gives me the illusion that no one is reading. Even if you are, you’d most likely be people who are genuinely interested in what I’m saying if not actually able to relate with my thoughts. Writing feels enjoyable to me if I don’t have to filter my thoughts too much and don’t have to cater to a ‘specific audience’. For example, on LinkedIn you know you have to say something that is relevant to careers, work, etc. because that’s what the space is about. On Facebook, you know your uncle and cousins are reading so that cramps your style and even your content quite a bit. Twitter puts too much of a premium on space so you either have to have an idea in a nutshell or something very current and breaking.
All these platforms have some or the other built-in constraints; naturally so because that’s what differentiates them from each other and that’s why they are all still alive and running. But the blog platform which was my very first social media venture remains to this day my top favourite. It gives me the scope to explore without any constraint on topic, without a care for who my audience is, without any specification as to word limit. That’s not to say that I treat it like a completely private space. Very long ago, at the time I first started this blog, I adopted this mantra that I read somewhere that anything you write on the internet is like writing on an open postcard. Maybe intended for a few but can be read by all and if it is read by anyone at all, I should be fine with it because that’s the nature of the territory. The consciousness of it being like an open postcard does work as a subtle constraint at the back of my mind but in a positive way because it makes me feel a sense of responsibility about my writing unlike what I would feel if it was my private diary. This means that I do reflect more about whether my writing conveys my message well, whether it is coherent, whether it could be misinterpreted, whether it is meaningful as a piece of writing. I wouldn’t worry about these things if it were meant for my eyes only but I think this extra bit of reflection helps me tremendously not only to hone my writing but also to evaluate my own ideas. If I am unable to express my ideas clearly for an imaginary reader, chances are that my ideas themselves aren’t clear. It is in this kneading of my own thoughts, ideas, arguments in the writing process that I feel I come to better understand not only the subject matter of my writing but myself as a subject…
When I go through my years and years of posts on this blog, I almost feel like I am getting newly introduced to this person who is actually myself… though I am usually surprised at how little I have changed! :)