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

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.

A Man For All Seasons

Vivek Patwardhan is a quintessential gentelman who through his life, exemplifies the phrase ‘a man for all seasons’! In a quiet, unassuming yet definitive way. He has been that way since the time I met him first.

Let me spare you the effort of looking up “A man for all seasons”. While it stands for someone who is talented and successful in many areas, the origin of the phrase interests me. Robert Whittington, wrote this of Thomas More in 1520

“More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons.”

[ From that line comes the famous play (& a much awarded moved later on) on Thomas Moore, bearing the title : “A Man For All Seasons”].

Vivek Patwardhan has been many things to me over the years. I won’t write them all down here for the words do not do justice to the depth of what it means to me. Besides, this post is not about me. It is about a book Lulu Duologues. His book.

Lulu Duologues

Vivek has been an intrepid blogger (amongst other things) for several years now. Sometime in his blogging journey, Lulu started chirping in. The delightful chirping brough gave voice to silent thoughts and unvoiced questions that dont surface in regular conversation. And in doing so, Lulu has been a treat to look forward to and a treasure to cherish.

Lulu has been chirping away for 11 years now. I was more than delighted when a book emerged. A compilation of all Lulu blogposts over several years. (Re)Reading them brought both nostalgia and new perspective.

As I read the book, I realised that most events are transitory. The questions that such events evoke stay for far longer. I must say that this book has held insight way beyond its easy chirping.

I will be chatting more with Vivek Patwardhan over the next few weeks and bringing alive new insights. As a starter, I dropped a few questions into his inbox and the responses came faster than the speed of light.

Here they are. My questions. And answers. from the man for all seasons. By the way, here’s something that I wrote about him in 2009

What propels you to write and share? It is not easy to do it on such a sustainable basis?

I always wanted to write. But there were no opportunities in school where one could do it. When I enrolled for the science college, I had moved from Marathi medium of instruction to English. The college required us to attend tutorials in English. The tutor often praised me and appreciated my writing. She used to give assignments in creative writing. I used to cringe at the praise because I knew my English was poor. I mentioned it to her often. But the tutor often told me not to think of the grammar and focus on the story.

When I started editing the Company’s Marathi magazine, I had no choice but to write regularly. A few of my editorials and articles earned appreciation. The highest point of appreciation came when Dr Narendra Dabholkar (Read about him here ) called up to ask my consent to publish my article, originally published in Company’s magazine, in ‘Sadhana’ a highly reputed Marathi magazine. (I do not know whether my article actually got published, perhaps not, because another commercial magazine published it, probably before Sadhana!). Mr Suneel Karnik, who is a renowned editor of Marathi books has encouraged me time and again, and he still does!

As I moved to a new role in the company, international travel became frequent. So I wrote travelogues some of which were published by Marathi magazines. At the Rotary Club I was asked to interview and write short introduction of members. I found life story of each one interesting; the exercise gave me tremendous insights in how people handle success, conflicts and relationships in general. There was so much to think and write about. I must have read more than twenty biographies as my interest in the lives of people developed.

Experiences, our own as well as those of others, become food for thought. When I wrote, some were reflected in my writing. It is difficult to say how or which got reflected, but I know that the source of my writing was people, their relationship with self and others, and the way their lives were shaped by their relationships with the world.

I worked in Human Resource Management arena. You see how people behave individually and collectively.

I began to see so much drama in all events. Real life is unimaginably different and stranger than fiction. Art is imitating life, as they say, but not adequately enough. Let me tell you what I discovered last month. Please recall the scene in the movie Sholay. Gabbar Singh asks Hema Malini to dance over broken glass splinters and threatens to shoot Dharmendra is she stops. Now here is the true story of Dr Edith Eger. In 1944 she was a 16 years old ballerina and was sent to Auschwitz – she was a jew. She underwent terrible experiences, one of which was that she was made to dance for Josef Mengele.( Read about him here ). He was called the angel of death, he performed deadly experiments on the prisoners of Auschwitz. And Edith survived the holocaust, went to USA and became a very well-known psychiatrist. I am reading her book ‘The Choice.’

I am amazed at the people’s ability to engage in actions of extreme cruelty; and I am also amazed at people’s ability – which Edith demonstrated – to make a life-positive or life-assertive choice.

All this becomes the material from which some thoughts emerge for writing.

Now the next part of the question: you said, ‘It is not easy to do it on such a sustainable basis.’

You introduced me to blogging and that was in 2008. Blogging permits you to do ‘Self-Publishing’. You can write whatever you wish and publish it at will, of course, as long as it conforms to certain norms of writing and publishing. I retired in mid – 2009. In that one year, I realised the full power of blogging.So much so that I had five blogs running at one stage – one for my English blogs, one for HR related blogs, one on which we wrote limericks, one was a photoblog and one on which my Marathi articles were published.

If you put together all the work, and exclude Photo blogposts, I have published more than 1500 blog posts! That works out to one every three days! The count of Lulu blogs alone comes close to 200.

Coming back to what propels me to write and share? I write as I introspect. Writing is my way of introspection. I have been writing ‘morning pages’ for twelve or thirteen years. Writing is helps me take an objective view of an event or experience. And sometimes the pen takes over and writes something which you had no thought at a conscious level! Those can be epiphanies. Though it happens only once in a while, I have got ‘addicted’ to it. The probability of finding some deep meaning in an event or experience is higher than finding a diamond in a mine!

What have been some moments that stay in memory with Lulu, over the years. (When did you start out, how many have you got so far, what’s the best public response, what were you surprised by, what has not been so nice etc)?

The first Lulu blog I wrote in May 2009, on the verge of my retirement. At that juncture you look back on your life. My mother’s death, it was a euthanasia, has stayed on my mind. Time may have blunted the pain a little bit, but it still remains a bleeding wound.

I was copying Behram Contractor (Busybee who published a daily column ‘Round and About’ in The Evening News of India and then in The Afternoon Courier and Despatch)in style.) He used to speak to his dog Bolshoi. Yet Lulu was not invented. And then one day I started writing blogs as dialogues with Lulu, my parrot.

I was also inspired by VishramBedekar’s autobiography ‘Ek Zad ani Don Pakshi’. He refers to shlokas in Mundaka Upanishad, the meaning of which [as explained by Bedekar] is that two birds are perched on the tree of life. One eats the sweet fruits but is sad and weak, and the other does not eat anything but he is strong and analyzing looking at the first one. Bedekar’sautobiography is written as if the second bird is talking about the author, in other words, it is written as a third person account of the author’s life, with his thoughts and reflections on the events in his life. That was certainly another source of inspiration.

Public response has been interesting and varied. At our HR group meetings people often asked about Lulu. Some referred to me as the creator of Lulu. And believe it or not, many persons actually asked me if I kept a parrot as a pet!

I also discovered that people enjoyed a conversation or a dialogue more than an article. Perhaps they imagine they are also a party depending which side of the issue they are, or quite simply they are amused.

I have always found this interesting. For fifteen years, I travelled by Mumbai’s ‘local’ trains. The journey would take at least forty minutes, sometimes longer. I used to observe people. The number of persons who eavesdrop on the discussion between two unknown persons is shockingly high! They usually do not interrupt, but you can see the reaction on their faces when a joke or story is told.

This may be not a very respectful to my readers, but all of us like to eavesdrop on conversations. That could be a reason why a blog in conversation form is more attractive!

About criticism, many friends told me that I ‘reveal’ too much. The ‘Mother’s Day” blog, another one about my reaction when my father was leaving for hospital are some blogs where they felt so. But I write for ‘Svant-Sukhay’ as they say in Sanskrit, or my own pleasure. I feel deeply held emotions should be expressed to lighten your soul, and writing is my way.

When I published Experience and Explanation in which I mention my surprise at the surreal experience of my wife, I thought I was trading a thin line of public acceptance. It was a true experience. My wife comes from a very orthodox Brahmin family and you don’t expect her to be touched by some power in a durgah! But it happened!! I am sure it must have happened to many, but when it comes to Hindu-Muslim terrain, it takes a political turn in our country. Surprisingly nothing like that happened. A friend who is a celebrity and a devout Muslim actually appreciated and said he would discuss such experiences with me when we meet.

There is a child in me which tests the acceptable levels of boundaries of any subject. I have done it in the case of Kasab too, but not in Lulu format. What I have learnt is that individually people of all religions are magnanimous and to a large extent inclusive. But things change dramatically when they make a group!

As I mentioned earlier, I have written almost 200 Lulu blogs, and there is enough to write about.

If Lulu was to come in front of you, what would it say? What would you say?

Lulu is my alter ego, so in a way it will be like looking in the mirror. ‘Mirror Gazing’ as they call it. When we look into the mirror we rarely look in to our eyes. We see our dress, our appearance. Looking in to one’s eyes is not easy; it can be discomforting. It requires self-acceptance. Meeting Lulu will test my self-acceptance. You are asking me what would I say if I meet Lulu. I may not say anything, I may not even challenge his statements, yet it can be a disturbing and yet a revealing meeting.

In my blog on my mother, he accuses me of being a hypocrite giving ‘being busy’ as a reason for not meeting my mother often. In my blog on my father,Lulu accuses me of ‘not being authentic’ in interacting with him. I am unable to refute those allegations. Meeting Lulu is unnerving, yet cathartic!

What would you tell the average Lulu Reader about how to read the book. Especially so, because it is written for a different medium quantity of consumption (blog length) versus the chapter length in the book?

These ‘chapters’ can be read in any sequence. I have often exceeded 750 words which is the recommended length of a blog post. But those chapters are also not too long, any chapter can be finished in three minutes. A friend advised readers not to read more than five to seven chapter in one go. His point was that the issue or dilemma of discussion often touched the reader’s heart and it was godo to stop and reflect.

As much as you have shaped Lulu, I think Lulu would have also shaped you? How have you changed over the years, when you look back?

Yes. Repeatedly writing Lulu blog posts is exploring my own mind, and publicly so! I have learnt that purpose, empathy and reason are the three aspects of our everyday action. Those must be consciously practised. I am making every effort to do it. It is a process of learning. I have to discard my typical responses to any question or information. I have to check whether all my response conform to the three tests of purpose, empathy and reason.

Like all people I have changed, or so I would like to believe, and changed very gradually for people to notice. I believe that my responses today to everything have a higher ingredient of empathy, reason and purpose. My response to criticism has changed. I feel my self-awareness has gone a few notches up.

And I have to ask my wife if my statements are true!

How has the book been received?

The book is received well. Many friends called up and mentioned. Reviews of the book are also good. Some reviewers have liked that format, meaning dialogue with a parrot, a very interesting way of writing. A few friends said that the cover could have been better and more attractive. Some readers liked the wide range of subjects covered in duologues. One reader called it a mesmerising experience to read the book. I am aware of the sale of this book in UK too. All liked that idea of conversations with a parrot. So overall a happy experience.

What are your plans ahead?

I will keep writing for my own sake and use blogging with Lulu as a tool of introspection. Lulu blogs have unleashed creativity. I am dabbling in photography, street photography in particular. It is fascinating! I make one sketch a day. I am better at sketching than painting, so I intend to work on my watercolour painting too. In October 2021 I went to London and stayed there for three months. I started Travel journaling. In other words, I have lost inhibitions and I am experimenting with anything that holds my interest.

My plan is to influence the younger members of my family, my grandchildren in particular to experiment with all art forms and learn some at maestro level. And do it without any inhibitions.

I am also a trustee of an NGO called Aroehan. It works to bring about sustainable change in tribal communities. We are working to ensure all children go to school, and they are not malnourished. We want to halt migration of labour. We are working on livelihood issues. I am pained to see how society has ignored them. I intend to my little bit for the cause.

Clarity Of Distance

A photograph clicked on Christmas Eve, 1968 reminds me of the stellar virtues of clarity of distance. A clarity that helps see far more than whats on display.

“You got a colour flim Jim?
Hand me that roll of color quick, would you..”

Thats the simple conversation that preceded the spectacular snap. A conversation that was commonplace in an era preceding the digital camera era.

The result, a spectacular picture that later came to be known as Earthrise. A picture of the Earth, captured by astronauts Wiliam Anders from the surface of the moon.

Here’s a line from the wikientry for Earthrise: On the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission in 2018, Anders stated:

“It really undercut my religious beliefs. The idea that things rotate around the pope and up there is a big supercomputer wondering whether Billy was a good boy yesterday? It doesn’t make any sense. I became a big buddy of [atheist scientist] Richard Dawkins.”

Over the years, the photograph has become iconic for it reminds me, amongst other things, the fraglity of Eath and the need for us to take care of it. When I see it used by conservationists, I remind myself that the picture that spurs us into action on the ground beneath is taken thousands from of miles away! In fact, it comes from the surface of the moon. Talk about disatnce!

The Clarity of Distance

The busy humdrum of everyday life gives us little opportunity to think about how we are living it! Over the last few months, one of the most imporatnt lessons I have learnt (again) is the relvance of going inwards and the power of silence. Distancing ourselves from our everyday life helps us see it in better light.

Silence.
Observation.
Reflection.
Conversation

All help. Importantly, they help bringing about clarity on the life we lead. That’s how it

Silence brings awareness of paterns. Both of the promising and the disturbing variety. Whenever I speak of silence I notice how initimadating it is for people. It needn’t be. I am not speaking of Viaasana but the act of conscious reflection by going inwards.

When we do, we become present to whats happening within. We become aware of shifting contexts.

For the last few months, I have also had other elements to help with the silence. Those have been writing, walking and pursuing activities device free.

All have left me with a bunch of thoughs and ideas. And a reinforced belief in clarity of distance.

Even as I state this, I am well aware that action is deeply entrenched in our daily life as a default preference. It is prized and celebrated and any suggestion of silence and reflection invites quizzical looks if not downright dismissal. I can unequivocally state that action guided by reflection and silence has substantially augmented strength.

Try.

Commentary

I can’t write about Earthrise, and the clarity of distance it brings to me, without Carl Sagan’s commentary on the Pale Blue Dot. By the way, If this isnt powerful enough to set context for the time ahead, I don’t know what will. 🙂

Let’s Dive Into 2022

Its been a while and this is a fresh dive. Over the last few months, I vowed myself into silence on most platforms and friendships. The focus was on how quiet I could become and stay silent. Searching for meaning and purpose as we dealt with change, losss, awareness.

Perhaps, implicit in that search was a fond hope that at the end of it, there will be a renewal of sorts. A pot of gold, if you will!

September. October. Novermber. December. Each month came. And went. Like passing clouds. Somewhere I drew a line in the sand for the silence. 2021.

Every passing day of 2021, the quiet, the work and deep private conversations have left me clutching new ideas and plans. And just like that, 2021 ended. And it is 2022.

Happy New Year

For the past several years I have put out a word of the year. Last year I sat down to reflect on the year gone by, my own aspirations for the future, talked to people and then chose one word. Adding meaning and structure to something that was more whimsical earlier. And then, the year took over. I never got to post it. So much for planning!

This year, I hope to do better. On all fronts. And perhaps there is an ounce more of energy powering that statement. (Does this count as a renewal?)

Previous posts are here and here.

Dive

Yes. Dive. Thats the word of the year for me for 2022. The dictionary states that dive is “to plunge into water intentionally and especially headfirst”.

Well thats a pretty accurate verb for my aspirations for the year.

There are ever so well made plans that need focused execution.
There is work and research to deep dive into.
Yes, the water is cold and God knows how I will land, but then, I won’t know until I dive!

Shel Silverstein is a personal favourite.

He says it like no one else.

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

And the little miss..

The little miss adds a twist or two that completes my thoughts. She has never failed to do so. Not this time either.

She painted those fun dolphins, when I spoke to her about Dive.

And according to her, the best way to dive is to do it with friends.
And then, you always come up refreshed after a dive!

Plus, Dolphins are fun to be with and intelligent beings. “You are intelligent, arent you?”, she asks. Some questions, I leave for another time. This one belongs to that category!

For now, I am staying focused on ‘Dive’! Thats good enough! 🙂

In the spirit of diving, I hope to be more regular here. Let’s dive into 2022

Happy New Year people.

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.