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“I just want to this about that.”
― Steven C. Smith

Sweating the small stuff


Its the small stuff. Big change is in there. People, organisations and communities want giant changes. The big stuff is sexy. It is visible and in a giant throne that cant be missed.

The company that’s lasted centuries..

The tennis player who invented a new shot

The Olympian who made a different cut.

And so on.

The brightest star captures attention. The bright star in the night sky provides direction to many others. In its twinkle and presence it illuminates the way ahead.

Everybody likes the outcomes the champions produce. But how many would sign up to become one if they know what it takes is a different question altogether.

Whether it is the outcome or the means to the outcome, seeing them as a whole is impossible to comprehend. The nucleus of change is the small stuff. Moment of truth is in fleeting seconds.

That’s what makes it both tough and easy. The small stuff is simple to start but can be a far cry for someone who jumped into the ring for the glory of the big achievement.

Yet, the small stuff offers hope. It is one small thing that you can do to stay the course. Small steps must be complemented with a structure to continue the effort.

Small stuff is good stuff when you build a system to back it up well with. To quote James Clear, ” “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” My view of systems is a small set of processes, support folks, measures, observations etc, that are best made routine.

That’s small stuff.

Be it succeeding in a business venture, running a marathon, losing weight, building wealth, the small stuff is what gets the big stuff. Heck, the small stuff is the only stuff you can sweat on! Submit to them. Make them meaningful and part of a coordinated weave.

I check if I have stuck to my simple routines. Everday. I can tell you, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Nor is it as boring as it can seem. It keeps me tethered to the ground as mind is frequently infatuated by the bright beings and their ways.

Attention

Attention is not cheap. It is scarce, free to give away and costly. Heck, it is invaluable. Like oxygen, it is omnipresent. That makes it seem cheap. You will realise it only when you don’t have enough of it.

I remember asking my dad, “Why do we say, ‘pay attention’?”. What are we paying really. Well, I know now, that we pay quite a bit.

We let others pilfer it away. Or give trade it away for trifles. We won’t do that with stuff like money but attention is another matter. It’s of course a different matter that there are people making their money off our attention. Heck, there is an entire economy devoted to it.

We gladly give thinking we have an infinite amount of it. Wrong. Attention is scarce. It is fragmented. We need to protect it. Cracks come into into tight bonds when attention stands overdrawn. Depleted and worn.

When we pay for the unnecessary with our attention, we prey on our relationships. On ourselves.

Living by design is about being careful with where we let our mind go. There is one more reason that got me thinking about all of this.

You are what you pay attention to.

It is as simple as that. Think about that. That is the key to unlocking all your super powers!

There is so much going on in the world. Much allure and endless cacophony seem to make the meaningless the center of it all. Many who came in search of music have settled for non stop noise. Worse, we contribute to it too.
Filter failure, said Clay Shirky. “Its not attention overload but filter failure”. That is a strong influence on me and my thinking.

So, think about this. How strong are your filters? When did you last check? It’s like asking when did you last look at the locks of your vaults? Especially, because there have been so many break ins.

At The End Of It All

We had an interesting conversation the other day about how it will be when “all this” is over. “All this” was a long list to it. Quarantine and Covid came first. But the bunch quickly moved into other potent and damning things like lives, livelihoods and work. So, ” what do you see at the end of it all ?”emerged as some kind of a hazy north star towards which the conversation meandered.

Like a boat that bobbed up and down guided by the waves, the more articulate threw the conversation around. The better informed provided data. Disagreement was the standard suite of the argumentative ones as was silence with the quiet ones.

Yet, it was a poem which sent the data to the deepest recesses of a lump in the throat that arrived without announcement. Stay silent and still, it seemed to urge.

Derek Walcott‘s “Love After Love” was brought alive by a silent someone in the group even as the conversation about jobs and careers was going full steam. Going downhill to never land that is!

He unmuted himself and the room fell silent as it was not his wont to unmute. A perky restrained smile made a quiet appearance in the corner of his lips. . “I lost my job last week”, he began. “The world looks different now, so much so, I wish it had happened to me earlier” he said.

And then, went on to read the poem.

The time will come 
when, with elation 
you will greet yourself arriving 
at your own door, in your own mirror 
and each will smile at the other's welcome, 

and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self. 
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart 
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you 

all your life, whom you ignored 
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, 

the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life.

“At the end of it all”, he said, “everything is new. And everything is a possibility. Because everything you knew as ‘The’ way, is now ‘A’ way. One of those ways.”

“So, at the end of it all, you can begin again. I have. For that reason, there must be more ends.” And that was that. That conversation. That settled the information abundance and the thought poverty. It dwarfed arguments and provided closure to hopes and fears. At least for that night.

There was nothing much left to speak. It was at the end of it all.

What does a good teacher do?

Days come and go with such a seamless gallop that causes me to gasp in surprise when one week is over and another begins. That holds true for months and weeks too. There are some markers on the calendar though, that cause me to pause and think of the path traversed. Teachers’ day is one such. I sat down to write on the central question: What does a good teacher do?

This year, the answers seem to want to go beyond their self effacing usual rhythms. I am drawn to my school years and the teachers I learnt from and with in school. College and later years I can’t talk enough of in one post. So, School.

First off, the disclaimer. My family tree has teachers galore. Dad. Mom. Scores of Uncles, Aunts, cousins. On occasion, I do too. So, if you see hagiographic prose about teachers and teaching, I accept guilt and leave the sentencing to you.

That disclaimer out of the way, I return to the central question: What does a a good teacher do? There are teachers and there are teachers. There are some who play a formal role as a teacher. Others for who teach as they go about performing another role. Like that of a manager of a team. Yet others, teach by living life in a certain way, like a Gandhi. Or my milkman who with his ingenuity and sincerity teaches me that a lack of a formal education is no barrier for wisdom.

The word ‘teacher’ requires some parsing I realise. As the years recede and memories fade, the value of what people did stands taller than how it felt at that time of the lesson! Whichever way you look at it, the teachers that you remember are people who have made a difference to you. They are not limited to the people who were nice to you. That is a good hook to hang my hat on.

A Detour

Bear with me for a minute as I take a detour. A related one at that and ask another question. What is the purpose of education? A twitter friend asked that question that provoked some conversation and thinking.

My dad used to state it crisply, “the purpose of education is education in itself. Do not reduce it to the economics of a job”. Much of what he said then went over my head. Some of it stayed back because we would talk about such statements. He reasoned with arguments and articles from Plato to Martin Luther King and J.Krishnamurti. “It is not my duty to inform you”, he would say and point in the direction of the books that he made us gluttons for. That is a good teacher to me. Someone who hold the space for debate, dialogue and provoke thinking.

Education provides for the future of humankind. Even as it goes about doing that, there are jobs and economic value in the immediate circumstance. Our focus on the latter far too intensely for far too long explains what plagues much of the world today. Martin Luther King said it well, “Education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society”.

Upstream and downstream

Set against that backdrop, people who play the formal role of a teacher have much stacked against them. Getting the world to understand that the whole point to education, as is imagined by the world now, is besides the point, is no easy ask! Not so much in what the student can recollect or perform but how the student connects dots! It is not getting jobs in a decade as much as making the minds for the century ahead!

Getting a job or having an economic and immediate outcome off education sure is useful. But providing just that much at the exclusion of all else prioritises immediate efficiency over long term good. “98% of the class is in the top percentile” is good to state and easy to understand!

The Teacher Jackpot

Throughout my life I have hit the teacher jackpot. I am ever so thankful I was with teachers who regarded their role as an usher to hallways of knowledge and let me be. Ms.Ameena while talking about Krishnadeva Raya or Akbar would always pepper it with thoughts about how history is often written by the victor! That wasn’t in the syllabus. Mrs. Viji Seetharaman who would instill the curiosity to see what lies behind a blooming flower. Mr. Seralathan who would break into a sweat if he didn’t see me drenched after a game of basketball, taught me the value of play.

Mrs. Sundari’s chemistry lessons on compounds and mixtures didnt stop with chemicals but extended all the way upto human nature. What remains from Mrs. Meenakshi Srinivasan’s trigonometry is not as much as Sin and Cos but the importance of angles and nuances to life. Mrs. Ruth Ashley’s French lessons were not restricted to just French the language. It was rather an invitation to explore French, the culture and revel in diversity. Mrs. Shanti Mohan’s english lessons were triggers to read, reflect and evolve a style of my own. I could go on and on.

They would push mildly. A nudge here with a question. Sometimes a whack with a firm look. It always ended in a conversation. Always encouraging me to go back and start all over again. Even when I thought I had done well! The serial jackpot of good teachers kept leading me up an alleyway of confounding inconclusiveness. There was no dogma or a stern prescription. “Given thise, what do you want to do?”, they would invariably ask. It was confounding at that time but critical in hindsight.

For it meant, I never took their word as final. It mean I viewed them as a partner in an exploratory journey. Even as they engaged me with the immediacy of marks and such else, their true sights were upstream. That is so precious.

It was as though each kept adding pieces of a giant puzzle that I could fit in ways that I wanted to. They encouraged me to disassemble it and rearrange it in my own ways and draw continuous meaning. For that, I would always be thankful for.

The Teacher In Covid Times

The teacher in Covid times deals with several complexities! Power outages, distracted kids difficult parents and anxious households are par for course. The rich opportunities for learning, play and education that the classroom offered has evaporated leaving behind the dull glow of a 14 inch screen and discrete realities of individual households.

It is in these times that the role of the teacher stands paramount. I have seen in close quarters how teachers in my daughter’s school have managed to create an ambiance of interest, curiosity and challenge. It is fantastic. Neither is it perfect nor is it comprehensive in a traditional sense. But given the trying environment and terrible conditions their efforts hit home on many fronts. Teachers on any given day play roles stretching from IT Systems Support, Network administrators, Care Givers, Graphic Designers and much else to both kids and parents! Besides of course teaching subjects assigned to them.

Now, I know a thing or two about digital change and familiar with the nuances of what it takes to change human behaviour. But if this pandemic has proved something beyond doubt, it is that teachers are cut differently, when it comes to change. In my daughter’s school, coursework has been broken down and reimagined for the digital medium. The methods of engagement have been redrawn with imagination and purpose. Every passing week has had several iterations. I wish this level, scale and pace of adapting to change is more common in the corporate world too!

If I was looking for a good answer to “What does a good teacher do?”, I don’t have to look any further. A good teacher learns and changes.

At every academic institution that I have had the privilege to be a part of now, teachers have excelled in re imagining their role. It’s not perfect at many places but then so is the case with life now. Imperfect, fragile and needing re imagination. In the re-imagination at multiple levels teachers have done with their ceaseless enthusiastic striving to make a difference to student life, they fill me with hope. Teachers are learning and changing themselves and not merely coping for the present while counting days.

Social media has been filled with stories of how teachers have find ways to plough on despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Borrowing tools and tackles from their kids, they have wielded their phones, tripods and lights with elan, as they enter the world of online learning. New vocabulary like “please (un)mute yourself” or “Can you switch on the camera” dot the airwaves! The community of learners and teachers are indeed growing together.

So, What Does A Good Teacher Do?

Covid or otherwise, a good teacher leave indelible imprints on minds with the excuse of teaching a subject. They leave their wards curious and yearning for more. Leaving them with more questions than answers and obviously are not limited by what the syllabus requires.

A good teacher listens and has, as Carl Rogers would say, “unconditional positive regard” for learners. There is space for the learner to debate and dialogue. Times like Covid also point to how much teachers have to lead by example that learning is important! That has been stellar!

But most of all, a good teacher cares beyond the boundaries of the syllabus and the present times. A good teacher is an investment that societies make on their future. For that reason, teachers must be celebrated!

One More Thing. Actually, Two.

I sat down to think about teachers and remained focused on people who have formal roles as teachers. My respect, regard and appreciation of the many friends, classmates and family members who are teachers, increases each day.

I realise that I haven’t quite examined the role of those that teach by the way they live their lives. Or the way they think and care for others. Colleagues, managers, business leaders, clients, neigbhours, friends, friends in Social Media and several other tall people who make a difference to the world. I learn everyday from them. With them around, every day is teacher’s day.

Finally, the picture up there is by my daughter. From her I am learning the basics of life and living. She tells me that each colour is a favourite teacher of hers. “You can have many favourites appa”, she tells me. I love this abundance! It leaves me with hope. What else do we need now?

Living Tall

The world is locked down. From New York to Madrid. Dubai to Moscow. From Delhi to Brisbane. Everybody is at home. Or at least is supposed to be. There is a real opportunity at living tall if only we look deeper within and farther than what Netflix offers.

Now is a good time to move the mind around while being locked down. We lack the legitimate distractions that provided us routines and structure to our life, like work.  

Have you checked out the new sights all around? Some of them are real pretty. Like the blue skies and quiet all around. The rush of flowers that spring brings?

Some other sights are not as arresting. Like what the mirror shows.  

For, the mirror shows unkempt selves.  The lady who usually touches up the blemish on the bridge of the nose is adhering to the lockdown rules. Result: Unruly hair and the honest wrinkles that are up and about.  

Oh, by the way, that special night cream is out of stock. Sorry. It is not an essential product. The idiots in the office insist on video calls. That’s one more worry induced wrinkle. 

So, what do we do? 

Now that there is less traffic all around, it is a good time to shake the mind a bit and see what all is in there. How about looking into the mirror and see beyond what’s readily visible.

Like the thicket of emotions that were stuffed away last year. Or that lump of guilt swept under the carpet of a busy life. Perhaps the call to say ‘thank you’ to someone. Maybe a text to acknowledge the role that someone one played in your success long back? 

You see, in some time, when we crawl out of this house arrest and sniff the air around through our masks, it is going to be a new way of life. The time to tie a few loose ends together is now. 

Living tall

Living tall is a function of looking deep within. The lockdown does not stop us from doing that. To look into the mirror and to look beyond unkempt hair and peruse the kerfuffle of memories, hopes, aspirations and emotions kept locked away, is a good idea.

Speaking about living tall and memories, have you read “A Guy In The Glass” by Dave Wimbrow?   

It goes like this. 

When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.

Because this is a lockdown and there is no escaping the confines of your house. And because the image the mirror offers to you at first glance has seen better days, the chance to look deep within is now! Perhaps a search for lost loves and forgotten passions are long due. Maybe a set of timeless memories that we haven’t had the chance to relive and relish because, well we didn’t have the time, can be given their due.  

With some curiosity, courage and humility, the mirror can get us to start living tall. Try.   

Chipmunks and me

Alvin and the chipmunks, the movie series, brought alive a different world! the world of chipmunks. Chipmunks are from the squirrel family and have impish energy to themselves that is an easy allure. The movie brought them more sheen. I like them for a different reason. There is something that is common between the chipmunks and me. 

Chipmunks hibernate. Or so I thought. They shut down and conserve energy. Then I learnt that they don’t actually hibernate. They get into ‘torpor’. There is a difference between hibernation and torpor. Let’s leave it at, torpor is ‘hibernation-lite’. Heres an excerpt from an interesting essay that I read. “torpor is a survival tactic used by animals to survive the winter months. It also involves a lower body temperature, breathing rate, heart rate, and metabolic rate.”

First, torpor is a survival tactic. It lasts for brief spells. Chipmunks and me share torpor. My version of torpor has been to go silent on social platforms. Twitter. Instagram. Facebook and such else. 

A nightmare as a trigger.

It started with a nightmare I had one night, a few months back.  My recollections of the nightmare are blurred and brief. All I know is that I woke up with a start. In that nightmare, friends appeared. They sported bright red straw hats marching to a tune from a horror movie. A horror movie that was badly made too.  There was venom in their tongue and they kept dipping into a bucket full of poison and smearing it on people. They told me it is a game and invited me to play while jiving to a wicked war dance number. 

I remember waking up with a start and don’t remember other parts of the nightmare. 

Over the next few weeks, there were other pressing demands placed on my calendar.  The intensity of my work and some waves of hospital visits due to family requirements made it apparent that I had to work things differently.  Logging out of most social media and reorganising my time was easy picking.

This isn’t the first time. For the past couple of years, I take 2-3 weeks that I shut down and maintain some level of silence online. It is far from something grand and sexy like a ‘detox’. Closer to being weary, accompanied by a sense of loss and nostalgia of the good old early days of social media and the internet. 

This year, my silence was more pronounced. I would barely surface to write The OWL Despatchthe newsletter for Founding Fuel and a clutch of other commitments like this one. This so happens to be the times of the Coronavirus and the recommendation of social distancing. I am clear that social distancing in the real world does not merit a universal embracing of everything in the social media world. In fact, the social media world has to be handled with even more care now.

Noticing my noticing. 

Looking back, I have wrested peace from the jaws of ceaseless online noise. Vainglory with a veneer of humility. Shameless bigotry, bias and bile. Fake news. All worn with pride. Medal worthy epaulettes if you will. 

When the apps are off the phone and the phone is off my palms there are other things that I am more present to. The love of colour and fear of the that keeps my daughter company. The extra wrinkle in an elder’s face. Kids of neighbours who suddenly seemed taller when I see them in elevators. I have been noticing that I have been noticing far more!  Including the receding sounds of chatter in my mind. 

As I resurface this time, the terms I have set for myself are stiffer. There is an abundant realisation that what gets into my stream of attention should not be only stuff of use, but stuff that keeps me sane. Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. Linkedin. WhatsApp. All the same. So I have been on a hacking spree. Unfollow. Mute. Exit. Reorganise WhatsApp presence in groups. A few are fun. Some are useful. I have lost count of the useless. 

I resurface yet again from torpor. There is a feeling of greater peace and a sense of what it means to live.

The quiet time has also given me a sense of peace and added to layers of depth to writing and reading. I have plans to read more books than last year and indulge in better conversations face to face. So what if it they are mediated by technology. More writing too!  

For all the lovely folks who reached out and checked if everything was alright, well, thank you. Your mails, texts and calls meant a lot. These days, I am ever so lighter in the mind and wish I could transfer this lightness to the body as well. That is a different story! 

Image Credit : Steve Orlowski from Pixabay 

This thing called hobbies

Last week, I bumped into an old friend and we indulged walking down memory lane of with this thing called hobbies.  Back in our day! One specific hobby hogged much of our time: Stamp collection (who knew it was called Philately) and stuff.  

Those were the pre-internet days. Very few in our families had travelled.  Ajman Post and Magyar Posta stood tall as exotic lands to be visited. For those were the only stamps available at Vijayam stores near home that we could afford. Small town woes if you will.

We collected those stamps, stacked them well, traded them and then lost interest in them.  Our excitement disproportionate to the value of the stamps themselves. Most of them, I now reckon, were fake. I remember spending hours in the library trying to find out where (or who or what) Magyar Posta was! 

In the absence of precise information, we made up the rest and spouted it with a great deal of confidence.  The hours flew under a favourite mango tree, where we sat talking about the lands we had a fancy for (countries whose stamps we had in our collection)!. 

Much has changed

The stamps are gone. Collecting stamps don’t figure in the list of good things to do for kids in the modern-day. 

The library is a place that lost its eminence long ago. 

All information is available in a jiffy. Imagination is tough for there are high definition LED screens to stimulate every possibility. 

And by the way, where the mango tree stood, there stands a glitzy apartment with its accompanying TV sets and mobile phones. 

Passing make-believe as facts has returned with renewed vigour though. That’s irony having a pronounced laugh. 

This thing called hobbies

We had a good laugh and went our ways. But the value of that conversation and the subject of hobbies has stayed with me. Collecting stamps may earn a cavalier dismissal today as a hobby.  Looking back, that innocence and imagination laden conversations sowed the seeds of passion for travel, exploration and conversation. 

Hobbies work at many levels and have a profound impact on shaping the mind. I was reminded of another conversation from a few months ago on hobbies. That was with an eclectic childhood friend who now sits on faraway shores of New Zealand and does some cool stuff with iPhone photography.  The simple conversation morphed to form a neat episode for his show. 

Here it is for your perusal. What do you think?

You can also listen to it by clicking here.

And then there is this wonderful quote on hobbies that I adore. 

“Find three hobbies you love: One to make you money, one to keep you in shape and one to be creative.”
― Anonymous 

I wish you all three. And I hope to keep digging for more.  This thing called hobbies shapes you well. 

My Word Of The Year – 2020

For a few years now, I have zeroed down on a word for the year. Last year, the word was ‘Play’. 

I have been more playful than thoughtful in choosing the word. More whimsy than plan. With a finger in the air and the snap of a finger, a word would emerge. A word that would appeal to me and stick with me. 

This year, I took time to reflect on my choices of words over the past several years.  Peering through the smokescreen of whimsy and spontaneity, I am more certain of one thing. The choice of the word each year has been a result of my personal circumstance, fears, hopes and the state of things around me. The word for each year has had a special place and has that defined the year. 

Word of the year 2020

I stuck to the same route. Pen, paper and random scribbles of the word for 2020 for me. I had only a few but it was rather easy to zero in on top two.

Resilience was an easy pick. 

We are buffeted from all sides with some stiff challenges, all our inventions and progress notwithstanding. Just see what we are doing to our planet and to each other. The technology that was supposed to set us free has robbed us of our souls. Many amongst us drift in empathy-less flotsam and jetsam of venom and hate. Our tools of progress setting in un on a wrong road! My own personal circumstance has seen its ebbs and troughs that has me leaning towards resilience.  

Even as resilience seemed to fall fair and square into my Word Of The Year slot, there was another word that arrived with playful ease. 

Yes. We have some stiff challenges all around. From social polity to wealth inequality to aspirations to misogyny! To be able to fight and overcome the challenges that besiege us,  require a sense of exploration, conversation and dialogue. 

A bit of curiosity. Oodles of humility. And tons of courage. These are important ingredients as we wade through the year. These are important ingredients that make my word of the year choice clear to me: Adventure. 

No longer in our teens! 

As we leave behind the teen years of the century and move to the 20s, we can’t afford to walk in the new decade without a sense of adventure. An adventure that will see us change course for the better on many fronts. 

Adventures of making choices with our inventions and discoveries. 

We definitely need a sense of adventure to let go of our set behaviours and work out a way of thinking and discovering what else is possible. 

Adventures in reaching out to people and talking. Resetting relationships and beginning new ones.  Adventures that will bring the human element in us out even as robots begin to start our doing what was traditionally our area of work. We need to reimagine what we get an education for and how we work. And live. 

This year, the adventure that I am on will keep me on course for a few things that I have worked hard for. It’s all one huge adventure. It is important to splash around. 

Project in collaboration

I chose the word and the little miss did some stuff with it. There was a splattering of colour all around. She has the spirit of adventure in her. To be able to see beyond the immediate gloom but to ride the wave! And splash some colour in the process! That’s exactly what she did.

Wake-Up Call

It was a busy morning and I had a bunch of things to do. Something that I was reminded of as I scrambled out of bed and shut the alarm down. A short while later I read the first message of the day. It was from Google. It said that I had used up all the free space, some 17 GB. If I need to continue receiving email and such else, I have to pay-up (upgrade). Or else!

I was fully awake now. This wake-up call had woken me up.

Over the next few days, I started parsing my inbox and deleting with a methodical frenzy. I said that in one sentence. Those who have trouble discarding stuff that they have accumulated over the years will know the trouble. It’s always painful for me. Gift wrappers, user manuals of gadgets that have long gone out of service, notebooks, clothes and much else pile up, until one fine day they are despatched away for want of space! The accumulation of fat on the hip is a different story.

Back to google. Within the first hour of my effort to clean up my mailbox, it was apparent that there had to be a better way of doing this. I had to make a few rules and play by them.

A few rules.

1. 25 minutes every day

2. Bunch email into a few buckets.

3. Apply filter and delete.  (Don’t look too much)

It’s not been easy.  I have been like one marauding warrior on a sea of silliness. Even as I cleaned pages and pages of emails, I was awestruck by the magnitude of the mess that my inbox played host to.

One category of news from numerous international, national, regional, local community publications from over the years. Washington Post, New York Times, The Guardian, India Today, Caravan, Vikatan and the like. News that has moved past its point and sitting pretty in the mailbox!

Random newsletters from the optometrist to the car showroom attendant all announcing something new that they wanted me to open up my wallet further. ‘We have opened a new store’. ‘We have something on discount’. ‘It’s been some time, we miss you’, some screamed. Yeah right. DELETE.

The mutual funds and the banks. I think there ought to be a law that they have to pay me for the amount of storage space they occupied in my inbox! Incorrigible.

The delete button must have felt the heat as I deleted emails with more emphasis and emotion, wondering why I hadn’t done so in the past. There were newsletters from Becky, Phil, Mamta, Sapna, XYZ store. I would have identified them and deleted them, only to find that a Mamta was still sitting in my inbox, a short while later. Because she had countless other email IDs!

Mamta@abc.com. 

Mamta_123@abc.com. 

Mamta@1bc123.com. 

Mamta@i4u.abc.com.  And so on. 

Every airline I have flown, every handkerchief I have bought, every ice cream I have eaten seem to have followed me and sat pretty inside my inbox. And like a scene from a mythological story, they kept morphing their identities that destroying them has been a task. To put it mildly.

Half an hour every day has meant I have managed to cut the obvious flab. I have unsubscribed from 36,798 newsletters! Or so it seems. Most of them, I am sure I didn’t subscribe in the first place. I am reasonably sure I did not sign up to receive a newsletter explaining the virtues of settling down in a community in west Kalyan. Or of a coffee from Kumbakonam.

There was one that announced the virtues of a certificate course on world peace or something akin to that. Again and again.

Vacancies of jobs in random organisations I don’t remember ever knowing existed! The merits of being a tri-athlete. Phew. The list is never-ending. I am still at it.

And about Amazon. I realise they have emails for every move of your finger. 

You look for a product – you get an email.

You order a product. You get an email. ( and messages, but let’s stick to email now).

Your order reaches the vendor. You get an email.

Your vendor scratches the glue. You get an email.

Your product is on the way. Your product has turned the corner. Your product is in the building, where are you?

Your product has been delivered. 

Can we have feedback? 

By the way, because you ordered your product, we think you will like the exact replica of the product and we will send you emails every now and then, about the replica. 

And then, we will send you an email so that you start all over again. It doesn’t matter if what you ordered was a pen or a porcupine! Phew!

And if you take a decade of such stuff that sits in your email box, you can imagine the stack. That could easily outspan a huge Amazon warehouse! 

Its been some wake-up call.  I think it will take a while.  And I am more than determined I don’t want to be woken up this way. The other learning that many others have advocated, is this: “Reduce at source”. I have filters in place now. Plus dedicated time to clean up stuff.

The real wake-up call

This entire inbox experience also is a metaphorical stand-in for the accumulation that happens in the mind.   Accumulation happens over time. As I wrote in the OWL despatch the other day. It happens whilst we are busy doing other things. The staid interactions. The WhatsApp venom. The ridiculous expectations. And so on. In the digital world, these stay back forever. Coming back to remind and haunt.

To move on requires cleansing of the mind. Often. But better still, is the idea of using strong filters and ‘reducing at source’. I am working on setting up strong filters. Coming up soon are some exits from more WhatsApp groups and social media platforms. Pruning work areas, drawing clear lines on the ground and staying within.

The digital landscape gives a false sense of infinite space, omnipotence, and width. This wake-up call has rekindled the desire for depth and deep work. I wonder if it’s just me. Would you have a story to share?

Ok Google. Can you stand down now please?

Image Courtesy : Pixabay

What Would It Take?

The champion on stage glides through choreographed music and synchronous applause. Some programmed tears that pop up for the camera do not take away the effort, dedication, talent and sacrifice of the winner. Being cognizant of what would it take to become a champion makes him more of a champion.

At other times, proximity numbs us from examining other lives. An uncle who waded through water to study. A neighbour who flew fighter planes. A good writer who has kept stubborn company of writing whilst  barely being able to pay his bills, ensconced in obscurity.  The list is limitless and has a promiscous stride across all walks of life. 

The spectacular ordinariness of everyday life can be cruel. What would it take to live an ordinary life that makes a difference to many, long after death.  Stellar lives with patently ordinary hues.  

For instance, what would it take to live like my great grandmother?

What would it take be like her?

What would it have taken to have a large heart, a loud mouth and a stellar soul?  The coop of grandkids and the farm of great grandkids will stand testimony to her dynamic presence and frame.  Some have her nose. Others have her presence. But none have it all. Which makes me wonder what would it have taken to be her?

Imagine 1950’s and 60’s.  Imagine being stopped at the gate of a large university in a big city, where you have travelled to. You are stopped at the gate, as you push for an admission for your grand daughter.  Imagine, you push your way across, stride through the portals of the University and go argue with a much heralded professor. Imagine winning the argument. Now imagine doing it all as a rural illiterate lady. That was her. Now tell me, what would it take to be like her?

To see a family splinter yet not lose hope. To see her wealth being usurped yet believing in abundance. To live through hatred and division with love. To believe in the girl child.  To walk tall. To love deep. To stay curious. Thats my memory of her. Enough for me to strive to learn what would it take to be like her.

I remember her free spirit and ready smile. Her worlds and her views. Her elegance and poise.  But most of all, I remember her stories. Those were vivid stories and there would be no ‘moral of the story’ at the end of it all. ‘Go figure’ she used to say. Her presience always stood alongside her presence. 

As I lit a lamp in her memory, I wondered if I should write about her. And then almost heard her sing Bharathiar‘s song to me. 

அச்சமில்லை யச்சமில்லை அச்சமென்ப தில்லையே
உச்சிமீது வானிடிந்து வீழுகின்ற பொதினும்
அச்சமில்லை யச்சமில்லை அச்சமென்ப தில்லையே

(Roughly translated to: No fear. No fear. Even when the skies implode no fear no fear)

“It doesn’t matter what others think of you or your work. Do what is right. And do it well”, she said. Even as she sank. That was many years ago.

I wish I knew what would it take to be like her.

An earlier piece about her is here