Kavi Arasu

Word Of The Year 2024

A Word Of The Year (WOTY) has served me useful purpose for a few years now. It has helped fix a North Star of sorts and constantly keep taking new bearing as the waves and tides of reality toss the small boat of life. WOTY 2024 got fixed sometime in early December 23. I had every intent to get it out on 31st Dec. That was not to be.

But here I am. With WOTY 24. A word that I am certain is necessary for every year that follows as well. And that word is ‘BELIEVE’.

In 2023, my WOTY was Dare. How did I fare on that?

I did dare to venture into areas where I have never done before. My eyes feasted on some amazing sights. There were incredible people who showed up along the way to help me along. And I dared to to keep going in what looked like a dark tunnel, looking for the proverbial light at the end of it. As I looked for light and ploughed on, guess who showed up? 2024!

And in more ways than one, I ventured into areas that were scary. I ended with some middling success, a few that fell far short of my target and in one case, with an one elaborate egg on my face. In all this, I am only glad that I started off and kept going. The scars remind me of my bounty of imperfection hemmed in with a silver lining of ‘dare’.

That silver is precious.

‘Believe’ as my WOTY 24

What the passing year has (not) offered and what the new year demands often blend into my word of the year. That’s how I have seen it work.

Dare has been extremely useful. This year has taught me that dare works best in tandem with belief. Bereft of belief, dare comes a cropper. A valiant one, perhaps. A foundation built on strong belief is essential for a full life!

To believe in ones own ideas. Trusting someone else that they too can come up with curve. Working with sense of possibility. Rowing hard with hope and prayer on a boat named abundance even when the sea is petulant. All of that is the stuff of ‘believe’.

No. It’s not blind belief. Or make believe. It is just belief that has been dipped in doses of reality, and coated with hard effort and courage that help take the next step, even when not knowing for sure, where that step will land.

Swami Vivekananda said, “The history of the world is written by the few who have faith in themselves”. I am writing my own history by living my life everyday. I seek to live it tall by choosing ‘Believe’ as my WOTY for 2024.

My North Star.

What’s your’s?

Travel For Growth

Travel is a pathway for growth and development. That’s why I say travel to grow. After years of conscious travel, I can say with emphasis that I have packed and unpacked disproportionately large self-awareness, new learnings and beliefs than I have of bags and suitcases. If there is one more thing that I can add with equal if not more emphasis, then it is this: Travel is hugely under rated as a catalyst for development.

My love for travel got accentuated after reading Pico Iyer’s famous ‘Why We Travel’ piece from March, 2000. It was comforting to realise that there was nothing wrong with me if I just didn’t want to go check places off a “must-see” list. For I was (and continue to be) slow in soaking up a place. In small conversations, observations and just hanging out!

There are four paragraphs from Pico Iyer’s post that have been my guideposts. They are here.

“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.”

“Yet for me the first great joy of traveling is simply the luxury of leaving all my beliefs and certainties at home, and seeing everything I thought I knew in a different light, and from a crooked angle.”

“Thus travel spins us round in two ways at once: It shows us the sights and values and issues that we might ordinarily ignore; but it also, and more deeply, shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty. For in traveling to a truly foreign place, we inevitably travel to moods and states of mind and hidden inward passages that we’d otherwise seldom have cause to visit.”

Shorncliff Pier, Brisbane

“So travel, at heart, is just a quick way to keeping our minds mobile and awake. As Santayana, the heir to Emerson and Thoreau with whom I began, wrote, “There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.” Romantic poets inaugurated an era of travel because they were the great apostles of open eyes. Buddhist monks are often vagabonds, in part because they believe in wakefulness. And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.“

Every time I have stood in the queue of a land where I clearly am ‘foreign’ irrespective of the passport I hold, I learn something new. Especially so, when am not peering into my phone or consumed by the desire to see more. Just being present to all thats happening around me and reflecting on the experiences and thoughts those experiences brought alive for me have been life-altering in many ways. Because, even if I dont immediately change or do something different, I am very present to the fact there is a different way.

When I get back to where I start from, I rarely find that some pronounced changes have taken place since the time I set out. But to my eyes that sprout new lenses because they have absorbed different places, everything seems different. My mind colours old realities with new beliefs, ideas and hopes. Giving new energy for action and reflection.

If that is not a pathway to development and change, I don’t know what is.

Pico Iyer’s essay is here. Go read.

Teachers Make The World

I have been fortunate with winning the teacher lottery. Every year, there is a jackpot of some sort. Perhaps it is a consequence of winning an early jackpot and then enjoying the spoils year after year. With copious fresh additions! Maybe, my teachers in early life have taught me tricks to hit jackpot every year.

A quick accosting of my memory bank surfaces multiple instances where what they taught me back then stays with me and guides me. And has added on to the memory of the day.

“Be the best you can be. And remember, there is ‘better’ beyond your ‘best’. Always.” A hand written note after a play said.

“Stay kind”, another teacher had said. “Help people”. In December 1992. When he spotted me really upset on a sepulchral day.

“Stay curious. You are dead without it”. Another said.

“If I catch you slacking, I am coming after you. No matter where you are”. Said the Biology teacher after I won a quiz competition.

Time after time, they saw in me what I didn’t see. They looked at a scruffy imperfect chap but always looked beyond the imperfections. They pointed me to an eternal spring of hope and promise. That keeps me going.

And one wise lady who pulled me at the end of the year, gave me a hug and said, “Stay thankful”. I want to tell her and all my other teachers from the past and present, that I try. Every year.

The Good News

They don’t publish
the good news.
The good news is published
by us.
We have a special edition every moment,
and we need you to read it.
The good news is that you are alive,
and the linden tree is still there,
standing firm in the harsh winter.
The good news is that you have wonderful eyes
to touch the blue sky.
The good news is that your child is there before you,
and your arms are available:
hugging is possible.
They only print what is wrong.
Look at each of our special editions.
We always offer the things that are not wrong.
We want you to benefit from them
and help protect them.
The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
smiling its wondrous smile,
singing the song of eternity.
Listen! You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
Leave behind the world of sorrow
and preoccupation
and get free.
The latest good news
is that you can do it.

Thich Nhat Hanh

PS: There is good news to reach out to. At all times. A reminder to myself.

Sports Day

I sit a row away from the last and witness another ‘Sports Day’ at my young lady’s school. It’s been a while since I got to a Sports Day. Covid killed many memories before they became one. I have no doubts that events like a school’s sports day evaporating into a ‘could have been’ has been a very cruel cut.

Parents of different shape, size, colour sit there as the kids march by. I smile as I discover that for the kid, Sports Day is a shy wave and a quick dart of a signal at his loud hooting parent with a big camera and a loud whistle. A signal that seems to say “I see you. But I am doing my thing in the field. Please behave”. I watch all of it and smile.

For, the spirit of sports day is more than merely sport. To run. Cheer the other. Lose. Win. That is par for course. But most importantly, sports day is also about being a good sport! Not just playing one.

I am often reminded that this is a world where “It’s not about winning and losing” is a refrain that is accompanied by a pause and a quick question, “who won?”

My auto affiliation is with the outlier and my eyes are trained on the kid who is out of shape and out of sync. You can say that I ought to be out of my mind to think these kids have a chance too.

But, I really think so.

All kids run. Throwing everything they have at whatever that comes in the way. They fall. And then pick themselves up. They fall again. In some sort of a way, they remind me of a person I know. Myself.

There are other kids who play football. A tall kid scores a goal and screams whilst running around the field like Cristiano Renaldo. I look at the goalkeeper. He picks up the ball with disappointment and and rolls it forward. He then shouts to his team mates, “come on guys, we can do this”. I wish I had some of his spunk.

In some time kids in Grade three canter in with their Lezims. They bring home the point that Sports day is about synchrony. To understand that every move is music and harmony. And if you are out of step, you can hear it!

Sports day tests you best when things don’t go to plan. Like when your Lezim breaks and you are there in the middle of the field not knowing what to do. It is then that your grade three intelligence tells you to put your broken lezim down. And move your hands and legs to the tune of all those around you, as though you had a lezim in hand.

The relay races remind you that it is important to pass the baton on. And trust that the next runner will better you. To know that the baton has to be passed on, no matter which track you run on and how fast you have run is a good lesson to learn from Sports Day!

You are never done with sports. Sport is how you live. Shortly after sports day is done and we get home, the young lady turns around asks, “can we play?” Reminding me that a sense of play is necessary to live a good life.

By that logic, everyday better be a sports day! Which is a good lesson to have at the end of it all.

Rating

What’s common between Times Square, New York and the Taj Mahal, Agra? Well, they share a rating. 4.7 on Google Reviews!

You may be sufficiently aghast, filled with delectable glee or sufficiently nonchalant. The times we live in has scope for all three and more.

The other day, I couldn’t help overhearing a conversation in the airport shuttle as it was ferrying a bunch of tired passengers to the terminal building. It had been a long flight and two fellow passengers had forked out their phones to book their cabs on Uber. Which is when one of them exclaimed that his rating had come down in Uber.

“I have been polite, I have said Thank you. I have even tipped every idiot. Yet my rating is down”. He was almost inconsolable. Just that morning I had recalled Kiran, my regular taxi driver from a decade ago. He would always drop me off with a “have a safe flight” or something to that effect. That morning I took an Uber and the driver looked at me and said, “please give me a good rating”. That was his sign off line.

The rating tyranny has truly taken over modern lives. From expansive humans who were driven by the promise of endless possibilities we have become narrow creatures seeking precision and a performance rating.

Speaking of which, I remember that it is the season of performance ratings in many organisations and it is inviting considerable amount of heartburn and angst. An individual’s rating by itself does not mean as much as when held up against another’s! That rating somehow ends up signifying an individual’s contribution and worth. They also end up determine how much money an employee takes home.

A rating is always a measure. The goal is something else. Happiness. Good customer service. Etc. Somewhere down the line, measures have begun standing in for goals. And thus, a rating is ubiquitous in urban life.

Sunday last, I had just finished a run and was catching my breath. A young teacher with a bunch of four high school kids walked by. They were having a wonderful conversation on history and the story of the Taj Mahal. I was walking right behind them and oblivious to me, the teacher asked them a question: ‘What comes to your mind when you think of the Taj Mahal? ”

Pat came the reply from a tall kid with unkempt hair and a clumsy shirt, “If a man has enough purpose in life, he can do anything”.

I smiled.

Times Square can keep the rating crown!

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.