Saturday, March 27, 2010

I re-read my writing, including this blog over the last few days.

Depending on my emotion while I was writing it (or the few hours leading to it), I find it stacatto-like, short sentences, much like machine gun fire.  Ideas flow out in short bursts.

Impulses, as Benjamin Zander calls it in his energetic, inspiring talk at TED.com (Watch the video here). Like a 7-year old, learning to play some notes on a piano. It takes years of practice, & some inspiration, to go from playing notes from a sheet to one fluent motion of making music. Likewise with writing, I presume.

The things I think about are so clear, so vivid, so a lot of things. Until, of course, I try to put them on paper. Or on a screen. They are now so much harder to express. Like now :)

Will be back to this soon.

Early birds..

Dawn.

Crisp morning air.

A choir of nature's various voices celebrating the arrival of a new day.

Early birds.

The ones that catch the worms.

Food. From one perspective.

A sign of disease & decay. From another.

A few folks up & about. On their morning walk.

A few dogs walking their owners.

I have been reading Emerson's Essay on Compensation. "An inevitable duality exists in nature." Makes a lot more sense to me now than it did 5 years ago.

Thursday, March 25, 2010



This picture, a screaming half-page on the Times of India, announced that Gujarat, the state that Gandhi hailed from, was burning. Religious sentiments, fueled by political expediency, had erupted into a massacre.

I've never forgotten this picture - it has burned into my memory like a horse's branding. This is the image that comes to my mind when I think of fear.

What drives people to do in a mob what they wouldn't do by their own, killing one another by the dozens? A sense of security in numbers? Disregard for life? For themselves? For others?

I find it fascinating that the things we are taught when as children, things that become a habit knit part of our lives, things we take for granted when we think, never questioning, always assuming - these same things could be so wrong & destroy us & the world around us.

A great example would be Earth itself. Until someone came along & challenged the contemporary thinking, Earth was the centre of the universe. The Church convicted Galileo a heretic & sent him to the gallows for questioning its authority. Only a few hundred years later, we take this so much for granted.

Unquestioned following of authority, external or internal, could be possibly one of the best ways of chaining oneself to a position. When the assumption breaks down, as it no doubt will, a whole life suddenly appears to be fake & without any value or purpose.

Which possibly explains mid-life crisis: throughout one's life, everyone is after what everyone else is after. With no real knowledge of either oneself or one's purpose, we sail through life accepting that money equals happiness, rich equals good, more or bigger is better & so on. One fine day, however, it suddenly breaks down - it could be the death of a loved one, a heart attack, the loss of a limb in an accident, being made redundant.

What drives you to do what you do? Have you examined your motives? Are they your own? Or are they like second-hand smoke, something you have picked up from someone you may or may not know?  These are some of the questions that I've been asking myself, & the answers are startling. You might want to do this questioning yourself. After all, what good is a mind, if we don't use it to think for ourselves?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Insights

Business-speak for a presentation of information of something that is taken for granted.

I read today that we count our life in years, & live them in days, hours & moments.

Early this morning, as I meditated, a thought floated in - (isn't that amazing, how thoughts FLOAT IN??) - a memory actually, of my first paid employment at a garment retailer. I was contracting for the inventory accountant who was on leave. The job involved compiling, understanding & reporting of the Work-in-Progress account. My predecessor showed me the intricacies involved - using  MS Access reports to fetch the information, spending a couple of days formatting the gazillions of rows of data, & then performing the analysis required.

It somehow seemed wrong to me that computers would actually make work harder - (read "a couple of days formatting the gazillions of rows of data") - & my predecessor was the in-house expert on this task. The thought continued, & instead of getting straight on at the task (I was warned against delaying any of the reporting requirements), I walked up to the database administrator, a person I had befriended at the coffee machine, & told him what I was thinking about.

His response both excited & shook me - he gave me an "insight - how the database application used a query to convert the raw data into information, & then created a "soft-on-the-eye" report - great to read, but of no use whatsoever to someone who had to work with it to analyse the data.  He showed me how to get the report, cutting down my work tasks by a full two days! The time saved I used to learn more about how to create those queries, & how databases really worked, etc...

My insight: In life, as at work, cosmetics are good only up to a certain point. I'm better off investing time understanding the fundamentals & learning to apply them than simply spending time doing what others have done before, without questioning. The easy way is always there - I simply have to find it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Courage

Courage is the mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.

Feel the fear & do it anyway.

I'm not thinking of courage to go into war, or fighting aliens, or some monster being that is about to destroy the world. No, that isn't the courage I'm talking about at all.

I've been watching my little "I'm-almost-4-years-old" daughter at very close quarters of late. In the last month or so, our relationship has taken on a depth I've never truly felt, except for the first couple of months of her life, after watching her be born.

I've been inspired by the courage she's shown in doing things that sometimes terrify me. Like simply walking up to a person she's seen & met for the first time, & saying thank you for letting her pet the horse. & then having a conversation about horses & their hair & her hair & dogs & whatnot.

I am beginning to understand what the phrase "Child is the father of man" means. Innocence, I think, is unadulterated. I'm beginning to think that the word - adulterated - refers to something spoiled by adults. But again I digress.

Fear is something we learn as we grow older - fear of people, fear of solitude, fear of poverty, fear of ... the list can be longer / taller than Robert Wadlow.  Yet, as children, we're unblemished - what we fear we have learnt from our surroundings - parents, peers, siblings. Fear is the external world's way of control over something that is otherwise uncontrollable. & most of us fall for it.

Most I said. I will devote this week to look for & post stories that are in the news, of people who have summoned up the courage to do things - not necessarily earth-shattering or record-setting events, rather, of people who to me appear worthwhile emulating for their every-day courage.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

back at it...

With all the busy-ness of the last week, I found neither the time nor the inclination to sit at the computer & put words out in the ether.

What a week it has been!!! Began innocuously enough .

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

mobile pains

Ok, so a million letters have been typed about telephone etiquette.

I have my $0.02 worth.

Literacy or social position doesn't educate a person. The lady on the train today was a classic example. A senior manager in a well-known organization, she is well-traveled, & is in charge of a fairly large team of people & manages a multi-million dollar budget. How do I know? Well, she practically told the entire compartment during the course of her several conversations on her "smart-phone'! No wonder they call them smart-phones now, the users definitely aren't!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Skimmed through a book yesterday at the library. Began with the words "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Brought back  a flood of memories for me.

A question that is asked of kids by grown ups who have already given up or are nearly there on their own childhood dreams.

Growing up in a middle class family, with middle class ideas & middle class company & middle class habits, necessarily meant that every child in the vicinity of the adults would forever be asked the dreaded question: what do you want to be when you grow up? I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. Heck, I thought being a child was so much fun, I wanted to stay a child as long as I could!

We quickly learnt to say what the grown ups wanted to hear - there were only 2 right answers - "Doctor" or "Engineer". What joy on the parents' faces! My son/ daughter wants to be a Doctor! Engineer! Never mind that the only thing he had already specialised was in doctoring the monthly bulletin of academic mediocrity - the exam marks card.

Occasionally a bonehead among us would say something silly like a truck driver, or a plumber, electrician, or even possibly a pub owner. Yeah, the unspeakable professions!  I remember a story of a Catholic nun who was in charge of 10-year-old Sunday school who asked the kids the famed question - "what do you want to be when you grow up?". She received a collection of politically correct answers - doctor, engineer,astronaut, pilot, etc.  From all except Sarah, who believed the way to riches was to be a prostitute. "What? What did you say you wanted to be?" The nun couldn't hide her horror. "Prostitute", repeated Sarah, who held some strong views about her intended profession. "Ah, thank God", says the relieved nun, " I thought you said you wanted to be a Protestant".

Anyway, socially humiliated, the unfortunate parents of the unfortunate fellow would hang their heads in shame, perhaps ask the parent of one of the potential "doctor" to speak to the son in the hope that he would be transformed by eloquent words. Not before, however, he got a dose of the family's traditional medicine concocted specially to treat these growing up ills - a few strokes of treated hide against the untreated one on his backside. It could sometimes be thin branches of the tamarind tree, known for its bitterness - whether  eaten or beaten. Corporal punishment at its best! Or worst. Depending on which side of the stick you were on.

I'm older now, with a child of my own. I find myself sometimes asking the stupid question to her - what do you want to be when you grow up? & then remember, how silly of me! I still don't know what I want to be, forget her! Maybe when she turns 35, I will ask her?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Change.

There's an adage in my mother tongue, Konkani, that goes something like - the chap who didn't know to dance says the grounds are uneven. Loosely parallels the sour grapes story.

Events in the last few days brought this to fore several times in my observation of people.  Change is terrifying. There are restrictions that people place on themselves about what they can & can't do, should & shouldn't do. One's defined by their own self-esteem, the other to maintain social appearances.

The cliche that change is the only constant may have been used & abused - but change is most unacceptable to a vast majority of us. Let me give an example - we rarely give any thought to the position in which we sleep - it is a habit-knit part of our life. Or notice yourself when you brush your teeth - try brushing with the other hand instead! Missing your regular train to work. Any of the things we take for granted. Do we adapt? Yes. Are we happy about it? Most certainly not!

How do you embrace change?

Look around us. Nature gives the best example. Isn't that what we are? Part of nature?

or are we?

Powerpivot

Very excited about the reporting capabilities built into Office 2010 beta..
Trying to familiarize myself with it .. tried installing PowerPivot. Seems you must have XP SP3 pre-installed (not documented in the help files) before you installed Project Gemini.

I'm still waiting for my SP3 updates to complete...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rights. or is it right?

I read an interesting article yesterday here, the results of a poll that suggests that over 80% of the 27000 people who were part of the survey from all over the globe, suggest that the Net is a "Fundamental Right".

My idea of fundamental rights was a list of some words that you had to memorize, & be able to recite to pass your school exams. I can't remember one fundamental right or duty enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Or any other country's constitution for that matter.

I began to think as I write this if I know what I hold to be my own fundamental rights, my private Constitution. I struggle with the  thought, but here's a feeble attempt:

  1. Right to decide what to do with my life & discover my own destiny.

  2. Right to enjoy life & all that it has to offer

  3. Right to learn more about anything that catches my fancy.

  4. Right to my personal beliefs, & to change them.


This list is by no means comprehensive, & is something I have consciously set out to discover. I realize that these Rights also come with Duties or Action.

My personal role model, Ben Franklin had a list of 13 virtues he attempted to live is life by (you can read about them here), which he had a very interesting way of tracking. In his autobiography, he mentions how he would try to live each one of them for one week. Over the course of 52 weeks, he would have tried (& his achievements & life tells us he mostly succeeded) each one of them four times, he also tells us he tracked his results very diligently for quite a long period. (Reminds me to read the book once again, I don't seem to recollect some important details!)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Stertor

It was a warm day.

The air was thick & sticky, like a bowl of porridge.

The train was packed with people heading back home. Some kept fanning themselves to cool down. Others tried to get busy with their books or iPods or computers. Minds were feeling as dull as the heat that numbed it.

Then suddenly came the staccato of machine gun fire. Jerked into action. Those unfortunate enough to be seated at the windows ducked for cover. Everyone else did too, not wanting to get a stray bullet in their ear.

The firing continued. People peering from their hiding places. Nearly everyone had ducked. Most were safe.

Most, except one young, bearded fellow. Had dark glasses on. Well dressed. Polished shoes. Head leaned against the window. Unmoving.  Was he hurt? Did he get the gunfire? Where is he hurt? Do we need to pull the chain & stop  the train?

& then came the sound again. Louder this time. The silence in the train car was deafening. Were they following someone? Everyone was looking out the window, trying to identify where the tanks & guns were.

Attention went back to the young fellow. He was breathing. Deeply & regularly.

Sleep is a wonderful drug. Snoring isn't!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Tides

Things are always in motion. Nothing ever rests.

Metaphysics. Philosophy. Religion. I think they all speak of the same thing. In different figures of speech.

We went out on our daily walks by the sea. Low tide at the hour we were there. The sea having its lows. Like all people have. People are 79% water anyways. Any surprises then that we too have our tides? With clock-like regularity.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Wiggles!

The Wiggles are the Beatles of children!!

For someone who hadn't heard of them till a few months ago, I'm hooked too. Along with my daughter. We both sing along. As best we can. Laugh out loud at their antics. Shake a leg a bit too! That, for me, a two-left-feet guy, is saying a lot.

I'm certain I'm not the only middle-aged fan they've got. The oldest lady (at least 75, I'm sure!) at a recent Toastmasters' meeting regretted she couldn't attend the next meeting, since the Wiggles were performing a concert & she'd booked several months in advance!

If you've not heard them yet, go on, get yourself a copy of their video! For the child in you! You won't regret it!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Laughter.

One of the many joys of having a small child at home is the gift of laughter. Any time of the night or day. Comes without invitation. Or expectation. Or warning.

The little angel comes up to me today to remind me that I have to read her a story.

How many, ask I.

Silly question.Deserves a ruthless answer.

She holds up three fingers of her hand.

Five, she says.

Too much confusion for my accounting brain. Three or five, I ask her, pointing out the apparent variances in the two numbers.

Short pause.

She prefers the spoken number - Five. A dazzling smile. I get a hug & a kiss to help make up my mind.

Laughter. Both of us. Then her mother joins in too.

No negotiations possible when laughing!

Fast asleep now.

My latest goal: At least one hearty laugh a day.

Happiness, I think, is an inside job.

Fear

Apprehension. Agitation. Knots. Anxiety. Cold feet. Chicken. Cold sweat. Creeps. Distress. Doubt. Dread. Misgiving. Faintheartedness. Fright. Panic. Qualm. Terror. Trembling. Trepidation. Unease. Worry.

I have fear. Of various things. & in various degrees.

Today, I promised myself I would speak to a recruiting manager in the company I work in.  I promised myself I would be bold, walk up to him & speak about the position he has advertised. Maybe even ask him for the job. I am competent surely, I said to myself.

But.

One of those words listed above defines my level of fear. On a scale of 1 to 10, I think I feel 10.

Of what?  I am unable to define.

Meeting him? Perhaps.

Making a fool of myself? More likely.

That I will be refused? That too.

I called him. The phone rang. Several times. & he didn't answer. I felt a sense of relief! I didn't have to meet him!

My usual response is to wait . Give myself excuses. Maybe he is busy. Maybe he doesn't want to talk to me. Maybe the role is already filled. All sorts of weird & wonderful excuses.

This time round, I did something radically different.

I sent him a mail, asking to see him. Can't wriggle out of that now.

I will call him again tomorrow.  Talk to him about the problem he wants solved. Who doesn't have a problem he can pass off to someone else to solve? What have I to lose?

Wish me luck!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Books

I grew up around books. For whatever reason, they seem to offer to me a safe haven.  From unfriendly To paraphrase Ruskin Bond "Books are never cross, they never fight with you, & are always around when you need them" - & they were. I'm still enamored by them.

The ancestral house we moved to when I was 8 or so had an inherited collection of books, articles, magazines, writings - legacies of my maternal side of the family. Readers Digest editions going back to the 1960's, copies of Wisdom (a locally published book), essays, they were a godsend to keep me company & out of trouble. I remember reading a children's version of Uncle Tom's Cabin & crying my eyes out, the first time ever that a story did that to me. I was hooked. I read every thing I could lay my hands on. Good stuff. Not so good stuff. Lame stories. Fun. Adventure. Sleaze. Spy. Classics. A 10-year old has no idea what constitutes a good or poor choice of books, but I was happy & willing to try.

The first biography I read was Ben Franklin. I was 9 years old. A red, bound book, with profile pictures of a young fellow, discovering himself, & inventing several things along the way - the story was absolutely fascinating. I read & re-read the book. At least a hundred times.

There was Shakespeare in prose form. Another bound tiny book with paintings inside. Merchant of Venice, Taming of the Shrew, & another 6 more, abridged versions that a child could read & get lost in imagination.

The Hardy Boys. Nancy Drew. Famous Five. Other Enid Blyton classics. Cricketing heroes. Louis L'Amor & other country western classics. General knowledge. Algebra. Too many to list here. I couldn't get enough. I was addicted to printed material. I wonder if there's a word for it. & in this day & age, I'm sure there's some authority on the subject who'll say reading is bad too! :)

As I went through school & what passed for education - qualification & education are synonymous for most Indians - I read. & read more. In class. Under the desk. On my way to school. On my way back. I did have other things to do, but reading was like a high I couldn't get from anything else.  My spoken english got better, as did my writing. It still is going through evolution. Like life itself.

For the last 5 years or so, my reading has been more of the classics authors - Jane Austen, Rudyard Kipling, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Plato, Aristotle.. - Autobiographies, biographies, philosophy, history, scientific thought, reasoning, creativity.  I guess the older I've grown, the more I've found that these subjects really have given me an education, while accounting, tax & audit have merely given me a qualification. I spend at least an hour or two every day reading, & will most happily admit that my education continues each day.

To me, reading is not an escape from reality. It makes it more fascinating. Some things have never changed with time. The daily struggles of living. Habits. Motivating. Circumstances & technology might change, but our daily concerns haven't. Thoughts in words from the past give more ideas on how to surmount them.

What do you read?

Why?