Kavi Arasu

WOTY 2023

Last year I had ‘Dive’ as my WOTY. Or the Word Of The Year. 2022 happened to be the year that I dived. Last month, there were several other WOTYs of 2022 announced. Interesting array here.

Oxfords’s WOTY 2022 – Goblin mode

Dictionary.com‘s – woman

Merriam Webster’s – Gaslighting

The crucial difference of course is that the above ones came up in retrospect. Each having their own parameter.

I choose my WOTY as a word that will guide my action, at the beginning of the year.

But Why?

Did it matter that I had ‘Dive” as my WOTY last year? I think so. It constantly reminded me to dive when I walked up and down the diving board.

I reminded myself of Shel Siverstein who I had quoted last year.

You’ve been up on that diving board
Making sure that it’s nice and straight.
You’ve made sure that it’s not too slick.
You’ve made sure it can stand the weight.
You’ve made sure that the spring is tight.
You’ve made sure that the cloth won’t slip.
You’ve made sure that it bounces right,
And that your toes can get a grip
And you’ve been up there since half past five
Doin’ everything… but DIVE

Shel Siverstien

So, it helped stimulate action. And thought. When I was stuck on the board for a bit.

No. It is not a resolution. It powers resolutions and other stuff.

It Is 2023

2022 is so last year. This year, I hit upon WOTY much ahead. It’s taken some time to get here.

Dare.

Yes. That’s my word of the year. It provides anchor to some of the leaps that I have to do. I have been awake for a while and the coffee has been smelling just like it should. Dare is going to be central to action this year.

This year, I hope to dare mighty things

I stumbled into Roosevelt’s speech from 1899 after NASA launched its Perseverance Rover on Mars. It is quite a story. Read if you don’t know about and refresh your memory if you do.

Dare Mighty Things is embedded in my mind and memory ever since. And on my screen as well. It encapsulates the vastness of the possibilities that lie beyond imagination and the courage to pursue them.

Dare often conjures up images of valour in the battlefield or Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Dare to me epitomises courage in simple everyday moments.

Would I dare myself to step outside my comfort zone and say ‘hello’ to someone I don’t know?

Dare is about choosing to say ‘yes’ when ‘no’ has been the default. And actively saying ‘No’ when ‘yes’ is alluring. To choose to invoke courage and go beyond is this year’s theme.

What the next moment is going to offer to us belongs to the next moment. This moment is all that we have. And to let ourselves rejoice in it requires a courage that I am invoking this year.

I hope to soak in people and places this year. Concepts, cultures, stories and much else that adult life thus far kept packing under the ‘someday’ category.

Dare Thoughts

As I kept weaving thoughts on dare together, I dipped into some of the masters and words that lend themselves to my idea of Dare well.

“If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than who you are.”

Master Shifu

Dare to be free, dare to go as far as your thought leads, and dare to carry that out in your life.

Swami Vivekananda

To dare is to lose ones footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.

Soren Kierkegaard

What do you think? I hope to get lighter and easy with myself. It’s a tall ask. But hey, that’s what the dare is all about. To go for tall asks. That’s why its my WOTY!

Teachers Are Special

Teachers are special. That’s why Teachers Day is super special.

Teachers make pathways, possible. For this Teachers Day, I asked people what makes a great teacher.

Here are nine responses that I thought I must share.

  1. “My vote goes to teachers who never let you settle. With a nudge and push they keep moving you without you realising.”
  2. “You remember Ms._ right? The one who always made me try harder.”
  3. “My best teachers are the ones who were interested in me. Just that was good enough!”
  4. “Challenge. Thats’ what a superlative teacher is magical with. Just right. Just outside your competence and something that you strive for.”
  5. “I always adore the teachers who corrected me without breaking me. How I wish there were more of them.”
  6. “A good teacher gets you to learn. A great great teacher, also makes you want to learn.”
  7. “A good teachers stays focused on whats good for you and not what you are telling her at that moment.”
  8. “Teachers make knowledge accessible. They have made stuff that was beyond me, seem so accessible that I often think I too can partake in it.”
  9. “Hands down, Mr. __. He gave me energy to go through the grind.”

Last year, I wrote a post celebrating my teachers. A good friend Achyut Menon left a comment quoting a Jain proverb. “When the student is ready the teacher will appear”.

This teachers day, I remind myself that it is important to be ready to recieve what great teachers can offer. A learning mindset is important. Curiosity, Courage and Humility help a big deal.

I write this, because I won the teacher lottery! Which brings me stupendous luck.

Say a word of thanks to your teachers, for teachers are special! And keep the fire of learning and growth alive.

Hope

The life of an entrepreneur has shortfalls aplenty. The one shortfall an entrepreneur can’t afford to have in life is that of hope!

When hope is lost, there is nothing left to lose. Life sustains on hope.

In his book The Principle of Hope, Ernst Bloch writes

“It is a question of learning hope. Its work does not renounce, it is in love with success rather than failure. Hope, superior to fear, is neither passive like the latter, nor locked into nothingness. The emotion of hope goes out of itself, makes people broad instead of confining them, cannot know nearly enough of what it is that makes them inwardly aimed, of what may be allied to them outwardly. The work of this emotion requires people who throw themselves actively into what is becoming, to which they themselves belong.”

Ernst Bloch

The emotion of hope causes expansion. It goes beyond the immediate and sees something that is not very evident.

Do you need hope at the beginning or at the end of a journey? Well, hope is not a pre-requisite. Often times, looking at the past with a sense of gratitude, can provide great hope towards the future.

That’s a great start point for any journey. And all it takes for hope, as Rosemary Trommer’s poem holds is to be able to put one foot in front of the other.

Hope

And therefore when depleted of hope, the best thing to do is purposeful action. Thats even when clarity of the destination eludes. One step after the other. And if there is someone else to take that step along with, nothing like it!

That help refill the hope tank quite a bit.

I speak from personal experience! 🙂

Language

There are roughly 7000 languages worldwide that get spoken. Each is unique and they form a vital link to the culture of a different time. Which is why, they must be preserved.

Language is a give away to beliefs. To biases. And when language evolves, we see how cultures shift over time. That’s why it’s important to study language. Or at least, how language evolves by use.

Have you thought of language as a measure of life? Toni Morrison manages to pose questions and comments that get me to think about things deeply. In this case, language.

There are obvious benefits patently visible to the naked eye. On the surface. But range and nuance swim in deeper waters.

Even as I think deeply about these, I realise its easy to stay on the surface! Like now.

Some Quiet Between He & She

I found this gem on Fiona Tribe’s (@white_owly) twitter feed. So much so that I have been sitting with this for a bit now, seeking some quiet.

Our lives and our times are often bound by what goes in our head and what we think goes in another’s head! Its a deadly combination.

As I type this, I wonder what you think!?! 😉

I tell myself, ‘Perhaps it is necessary to quieten down a bit. In the mind. Especially, of what other people think.’ I reason, I will have reduced the chatter by 50%. While that is impeccable logic, I am immediately present to what would happen to my chatter about me if it others werent involved in it.

You see, whats the point?

Amidst all the noise, I think the way to get to quiet is to not start with an ideal picture of what quiet is and go after it. Perhaps let quiet evolve.

After a while that begins to make sense. I invite quite by being present to noise.

It makes sense to me.

Secret Destinations

Secret destinations are not so secret if you are not solely focused on the destination you came after. Martin Buber stitched travel to my heart with this immortal line.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware”.

Martin Buber

We all go on our journeys. There is a said destination that a contented traveller gets to. But a real traveller goes far beyond. Because the destination is not the end point. Several story(ies) start after you arrive!

There are elements like what else you discover in a journey. Like the lay of the land and markers in its evolution. Like this glorious temple of a 1000 years. It’s historical undulations. Some scripted in stone and other new tales that are spun to suit today’s skies. The internet tells you about this land’s past glory, the minerals beneath it and the flow of the water across the hills and much else. You can drink all of it in like a voyeur with no skin in the game or like a lover who is immersed in her love.

The rich air tells you a few stories, only if you are ready to stop and take in a breath without necessarily being coveted by the dull lure of THE destination you came after. Sometimes, I infer my lessons by looking at the people and their ways. Their quick stride, the simple ways, easy smiles, the quite common afternoon snooze under the neem tree and the collective bath by the lakeside.

At night when I peruse my random notes to realise, secret destinations are not so secret if the focus is on curiosity and possibility beyond what is apparent.

Today, I make my notes sitting in the shade that the Sun and a 1000 year old wall come together to offer.

There are two others men there. Animated in conversation.

One tells another a story from history about the king and his valour. He speaks as though he has seen it first hand. Passionate. Lyrical. And filled with energy. I am hooked. The story meanders.

And suddenly, he looks into his watch and remembers that they have to be somewhere else by this time. The other agrees. Their destination interferes with a story that was building up well. Both of them get up, dust themselves up and move.

Leaving me with their incomplete story. I let the king stay within me whilst shuffling my feet and wondering what new secret destination awaits the king. And me.

Arrivals and Departures

I have been on a break and taking the time to examine the life I lead. Between quiet times, copious notes and filter coffee, unvarnished truths strut around. I hope to write and post some thoughts, ideas and “notes to myself” here. This post ‘Arrivals and departures’ is based on some notes I scribbled sitting at a roadside coffee shop.

Many moons ago, English August by Upmanyu Chatterjee gave me an unforgettable line. A line that I have used many times over now about arrivals and departures. It goes like this.

“The excitement of the arrival never compensates for the emptiness of the departure.”

Arrivals are filled with joy and celebration. A birth in the family. Joining a new organisation. Starting a new account. Buying a new car. Or a phone. Arrivals are joyous. Departures in contrast are quiet affairs. Sometimes, happening without a trace with a hint of “let’s get done with this quickly’. At other times, they are solemn. With a muffled tear, a hint of sadness or a full throated wail.

The ceremony of the arrival and departure obscures the time in between.

Arrivals and departures through the lens of learning and change

I view every new learning is an arrival of sorts. There is an aha moment and a flicker of bright lights. A new piece of information or skill brings a heightened moment of possibility filled emotion. There is a genuine happy emotion of discovery. An arrival that is filled with excitement.

But change is a different matter altogether. Change requires a ‘departure’ of a way of living or working or being. It requires a letting go for the letting in to happen. That is not an easy act. The excitement of picking up a new skill does not automatically translate to change happening. That is a long boring process by itself.

Every departure is its own arrival. And every arrival, a departure. To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn, in other words, is an act of deep work. If you’re comfortable going deep, you’ll not only win now, you will also develop the foundations for future victories.

If you instead remain one of the many who skim the surface, for whom depth is uncomfortable, life will be on the hamster wheel.

My current challenge levels at work have gotten me to stare at a new horizon. A horizon that spans newer geographies, greater scale and an incessant complexity that redraws the ‘Normal’. It’s a good problem to have for it reveals areas that I am out of depth in!

To discover new depths I have to depart from my old ways that have brought me success (and comfort). And for that, I have to depart from where I have been.

Arrivals and departures are inevitable part of our lives. When we live our lives consciously, we chart a plan to live by. In more than one way, it makes the journey worthwhile!

Good Design

The Netflix docu-series Abstract: The Art Of Design has been quite something. One of my favourites there is the one that features the Greek photographer Platon.

Perhaps it is my fledgling interest in photography (that has resolutely stayed fledgling). But, I would like to think that it is more than that. I think, it is at the core, the philosophy of design that that I deeply resonate with.

At the end of it, I asked myself ‘what is good design?’

Here are some sponataneous thoughts that emerged.

Good design goes beyond aesthetics. It is a seamless weave of form and functionality. To get to get to awesome design, you sure need imagination and a certain courage to go beyond immediate feedback.

But at the very core, design to me, is about how much you care.

Design manifests in subtle and obvious ways, when deep empathy and listening beyond what is said is the norm. Good design is often mistaken to be an outcome. It actually is a way of thought. Sure, it looks pretty and feels good. But if you look deeper than that, you would find that the designer ‘cared’!

I liked a couple of lines from the episode with Platon.

“Before a shoot I am not thinking of how can I get a good picture, but what can I learn from this person.”

“Taking a picture is very technical, but 99.9% of it is the connection that allows me to reach someone.  And through that connection, there’s just a chance you’re going to feel something too.”

Great design is about connecting with other people. That is something that I am inspired by and try to practice. Every single client interaction and consequent solution design is about care and empathy. At least, that’s my endeavour.

There is another widely held belief that good design is a function of awesome tools that you have. Sure, tools help. Heres my opinion: design that is purely a function of the tools at hand is a lazy mind at work.

Good design brings out the human in the other. It evokes an emotion. That’s a function of connections. Be it a photograph, a costume, car or a workshop, good design is a function of how much you really care.

That’s why good design is rare.

The Many Pleasures Of Reading

Last month a dear friend gifted me a book. A physical one. With smells, sounds and good old paper. It has pages that I can dog-ear. And write my notes. Circle. Underline. Etc.  And so, have revisited the pleasures of reading a physical book. It has done wonders to my reading. 

It didn’t quite start that way. When I unwrapped the gift to see books, the first thought was, where do I keep them? Skirmishes at home about my books and the space they occupy have been persistent. Peace has been wrought by sticking to the kindle. Until these books arrived.  

So, I left these books on a side table. I had to figure out how to get back to caressing a book while devouring what it held. Perhaps in the hesitating was a fear of falling in love with the physical book again. 

One of the books seemed to tug at me.  Chandrahas Choudhury’s “My Country Is Literature”.

 The back cover had this.

“A book is only one text, but it is many books. It is a different book for each of its readers. My Anna Kareninais not your Anna Karenina; your A House for Mr Biswas is not the one on my shelf. When we think of a favourite book, we recall not only the shape of the story, the characters who touched our hearts, the rhythm and texture of the sentences. We recall our own circumstances when we read it: where we bought it (and for how much), what kind of joy or solace it provided, how scenes from the story began to intermingle with scenes from our life, how it roused us to anger or indignation or allowed us to make our peace with some great private discord. This is the second life of the book: its life in our life.”

Those lines were enough to shed my romance and dive into experiencing the sensuous pleasures that only a book can kindle. Sorry about the stupid pun.

Anyway, I have read been devouring with great relish. This book is a collection of literary criticisms on the works of an esoteric set of writers. Perumal Murugan. Orhan Pamuk. Sadat Hasan Manto. Nehru. Junichiro Tanizaki. Manu Joseph. And several others.

I have been slow reading. Rereading. Fast reading. Beginning all over again. There is no bar at the bottom of the page that tells me I have finished 43% of the book. The volume of fresh pages on my right palm are inviting by their weight and crisp edges. So I go slow. 

A Library Of Emotions For The Pleasures Of Reading

In the middle of all this, another dear friend sent this message on whatsapp.

“I think Emerson wrote somewhere that a library is a kind of magic cavern which is full of dead men. And those dead men can be reborn, can be brought to life when you open their pages.

Speaking about Bishop Berkeley (who, may I remind you, was a prophet of the greatness of America), I remember he wrote that the taste of the apple is neither in the apple itself—the apple cannot taste it- self—nor in the mouth of the eater. It requires a contact between them.

The same thing happens to a book or to a collection of books, to a library. For what is a book in itself? A book is a physical object in a world of physical objects. It is a set of dead symbols. And then the right reader comes along, and the words—or rather the poetry behind the words, for the words themselves are mere symbols—spring to life, and we have a resurrection of the word.”

Borges, Jorge Luis, from his book This craft of verse

My mind right now is like a meadow sprouting all kinds of green after a luxurious spell of afternoon rain. And as dusk falls, birds and insects chirp away. Strange calls and uncommon sounds seem to festoon the night ahead as I look at the pages ahead. A strange set of emotions that are beyond the stuff in the common library of emotions.

That’s what reading a book does to me. How I love “what have you been reading lately?” to bibliophiles like Manu!

The many pleasures of reading are best left unexplained. For explanation does it more harm than good. I can say that with certainty after writing all this.

Enough

A while ago, I was a meeting with my Financial Advisor. Frankly, it wasn’t a meeting I was looking forward to. Enough said, he was an affable chap but my finances had become a problem pile under the table. Packed away and relegated to that space every time the topic came up.

The Financial Adisor was a solid man. His affability did not come in the way of his plain speaking.  

He is a well meaning chap and he is also in business.  He told me that I have to factor for inflation, key life events and my aspirations.  And to maintain a decent lifestyle, I would have to put together a tidy sum.

It ensured sleepless nights. The tidy sum was one part. The bigger part was looking into the future and picturing how it would all be.

The whole conversation got me thinking about enough. 

Amongst all things I became present to, I could clearly see how my goalposts shifted over the years. With every passing year, ‘enough’ has hardly stayed stable. I jotted some random thoughts that morning. I pull them out now and then. Last week I was reading them after hearing Morgan Houssel speak.

Eleven reminders

Here are eleven specific points from those notes.  Syncopated. Keeping dive in mind! It’s only February. 🙂   

1. Innocuous temptations are the first steps to the grand palace of avarice. It is important to begin staying mindful to where it all begins.

2. To add is easy. To remove from the list is tough. Buying is energising. To prune, is necessary action.

3. To add emotion to a material possession is dangerous to mental health.

4. Cultivating simple habits, routines leading up to an affordable life is as important (if not more) as building a corpus.

5. Meaning and purpose that comes from service and purpose provides immense energy and push.

7. Buying for need trumps buying because it is possible to buy! Or that it will be delivered in fifteen minutes. Or ten.

8. Taking good care of material possesions is important is key. Just thinking of what it took for an object to get shaped into something of value, can be a mind boggling discovery!

9. Engaging relationships, people and community bring great joy now and over time.

10. What is enough needs an early and firm decision. Something that will not move.

11. The single most important possession is the body and mind. To keep the first one safe and the other, sane is comes before all of the above.

Rich stuff

I remember infinitely rich conversations with people who did not let their material wealth intrude their ways of life and relationships.

They were curious about the human mind and its many dimensions. The horizons they sought to discover were often at the edge of their own comfort zones. Their offices were spartan and neat.

That is my aspiration.

On a subsequent meet with my financial planner, I told him about my aspirations. It was his tun to look at me with bewilderment.

Enough has not been said about enough. Or has it been? Whichever way you think of it, enough is always enough. At least that’s what happened I learnt from my financial planner.

He never saw me again.