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

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

Four Lessons From My Hiatus

When you are in it, you cant see it. A hiatus is a great way of examining yourself, your actions, intentions and results from a distance.  Distance brings clarity. I have been on a hiatus of sorts from several default dens. Large parts of social media, large conferences, get-togethers and the like. It has given me to rediscover many facets and dust up promises made. Here are four lessons from my hiatus.

A few months ago, a vague gnawing feeling kept me company.  I couldn’t quite place a steady finger on a particular problem. It presented an opportunity to relook at several things.  In a conversation with a friend, the need to slow down emerged. At the place where the road curved, I realised the need to ‘Play’ more. so much so, that it became my word of the year!  

A hiatus was well in place by then. Most of the social media was (and still continues to be) off my phone. I reconfigured my phone. I cleaned up my bookshelf and the wardrobe. My hard drive remains by far incomplete.  I took a break from many conferences and preferring smaller more intimate conversations.  And so on. I see more and hear more these days. It has been refreshing.

So, the other day, I sat down wondering what all has emerged for me. On a whim, I wrote four lessons from a hiatus. Written more for me and not as a prescription to the world. 

1. The Acceleration Problem:

I thought acceleration in life is tough. I realise that getting off the fast lane is tougher to start with! There are all kinds of fears that dominate. But to have the courage to continue staying off the grid exposes the hollowness of several fears. I cut out the argumentative froth on social media.   The inventive algorithmic persuasion of Facebook and such other apps was evident, as the gaps they left behind on the calendar, helped me read far more. And about staying updated, it was obvious that if it’s that earth-shattering a news, it will reach! Life is beautiful beyond these empty fears.

2. The Accumulation Problem:

As the years roll by we tend to accumulate. It’s easy. It’s a good feeling. We accumulate material possessions, friends, ideas, opinions etc! Of course, the accumulation of fat in the body, tartar in teeth and dogma in the mind, happen whilst we are busy.  If we are not careful, they come in the way of leading a full life.

A friend told me, “you have a problem only if you let things in. You need to filter at the source”. That is prescient advice, I realise.  In a world where information and opinion is cheap, we need to find ways to stay sane. One way is to have strong filters. Works for fat, tartar, dogma or the wardrobe!

3. Default Vs Design:

The hiatus has helped me examine the defaults that have eased their way in. Living life to a design and a plan requires calling out the defaults and elbowing them out! Doing the right thing is not the same as doing the easy, natural thing. To eat right, staying fit, having quality conversations, getting to do quality work, are all products of choices.  They are shaped by disciplined choices in the space of other inviting options that hold allure. 

4. The force of dead habit:

The hiatus brought me face to face with dead habits. I realise that habits that were good for a point in time and that are past their prime have kept me stiff company.  And then there are some plain bad ones that have stuck on too. Some bad ones masqueraded as good ones. Others didn’t find any need to.  Obviously, I am far from being free of these. But I am now better acquainted with them and the stories my mind tells me about them!

The deal with the hiatus is that it gives the time and space to examine. It gives opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t. The thing about insights from a hiatus is that you can’t force it to appear. Insights come with deep reflection, conversation and courageous examination. These require ample time, a free mind and some breeze to shoot. Those are aplenty in a hiatus.

One more thing.

One of the greatest realisations I have is that it is possible to have a hiatus whilst going about work and putting bread on the table. It means making parts of your calendar inaccessible to your regular ways. It requires a commitment to tune in to deeper desires and transcending immediate pulls and pressures.

So, am plodding on rearranging blocks of my life. To roll the log of ‘lived life’ over and see what crawls out from beneath it with curiosity, is interesting. To say the least.

In more than one sense, I am upgrading. It is work in progress and it still has jarred edges. Please adjust! 🙂

Happy Deepavali

Happy Deepavali. It is that time of the year to celebrate colour. The colour in our lives. The gripping beauty in the smiles of ordinary people around us. The vivid detail in the mythical even whilst we built current day connections.

The rapture of joy in ordinary lives. The joy that dominates even whilst realising that it is special that gives the ordinary energy to keep moving forward.

There are indulgences of all kinds. Friends find the time to call and talk. Reminiscing the good old times and the strands of hope for the future. The neighbour’s invite for playing cards at their home comes with a promise of a fresh start.

The discounts are on offer. Chasing numbers and opportunity there are advertisements that have out beaten newspapers. It is a festive time you see. If you lived in a Pavlovian world, you will consider talking about salivating dogs. And who doesn’t live in a Pavlovian world? Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families are alike and every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.

“There is a time and place for everything”, I was told a while back. “Shubh Shubh bolo”, she had said. Yes. It is the time of “Shubh Shubh Bolo”. Let’s stick to that.

So. With Anna Karenina in mind, let us just leave it that every family, happy or unhappy, celebrates its Deepavali in its own way.

It is that time of the year to celebrate colour. To deify the sweet sound of the victory of good over evil and pass some sweets.  Even as you pass the sweets around, may I invite you to consider passing some happiness around too. Make some big contribution to someplace and forget about it. Or maybe buy an ice-cream to a slum kid. Or a dress. Too expensive? How about a balloon? Whatever.

After doing all of this, think about how you could do this every month! Or maybe, every week. Why not, every day? As my grandmother used to say, help as much as you can. And when you are done, help some more.

And so, may we soak up much of the Deepavali spirit. May it last long after the festival is done. Let there be a perpetual sparkle in our eyes.  May wonder stay.

Happy Deepavali!

Staying Grounded

Holy shrines seek a ‘cleanliness’, often beginning with asking you walk in barefoot. To me, it is a poke to go light. To experience the stone and the rough surface pick supple feet. It is about staying grounded. That is the best way of staying clean!

Staying grounded involves being aware of realities as they are. Realities around oneself and the world. It necessitates a certain level of humility to accept what comes ones way yet to search for more.

Staying grounded means one is not occupied by thoughts about oneself but is innately curious about the other. And seeks to ask questions and seeks to build understanding. However sure one is about the answer!

Staying grounded requires an anticipation of uncertainty and a comfort with it. For when one is not driving an agenda, the outcomes can be many. Outcomes that will arrive at and get evolved in the moment at that time!

Staying grounded is not about ‘staying’. It is not a state of immobility. What stays behind is dynamism and change. To keep the mind alive and the ideas in the air but the feet on the ground makes a difference.

Staying grounded does not mean that one forgoes! In fact its the opposite. When one stays grounded what one is able to create far more. Both in the self and in the collective.

Staying grounded needs patience but more importantly, staying grounded needs energy. The energy to let things emerge, by staying in the moment and rummaging through with interest.

Staying grounded is to allow the idea to fly and letting the credit for the idea kiss the Earth. It means one is not wedded to the idea as much as solving the problem with the idea.

Staying grounded is about strength. It’s about awareness. It’s about calm. It’s about a sense of possibility. A sense of what can emerge.

Staying grounded is about the future!

The cost of victory. #SandpaperGate

Everything comes at a cost. Including victory. Sometimes the cost of ‘victory at all costs’ is so mind-boggling that victory loses meaning. Today Australia (and the rest of the world) woke up to ‘ #SandpaperGate ‘. Just the other day, I was wondering about the ‘cost of victory’.

On that ‘other day’, I landed up at the attic at my mom’s place. I was looking to fill gaps in memory fuelled by gaps from WhatsApp conversations.

A few old cherished medals lay in one corner of a dusty trunk. Amongst other things that kept the medals company: an assortment of parched certificates, a couple of spent manuscripts, a dog-eared atlas, and some dull question papers from a ‘quarterly exam’ that ended decades ago.  Amidst these were some assorted pages from an old English textbook. Remnants of my school going years. I looked at the medals with wistfulness and the books with nostalgia.  And started flipping through the Engish textbook landing at ‘If’, Kipling’s much loved work.

I stayed there for a bit. There are poems that move. And then there are poems that stay with you and get you to move. Every poem is a work of art reaching places in the mind that barely existed. ‘If’ is perhaps ‘The’ poem with the shortest title while having the farthest reach. It has been a personal favourite. And as I tossed a few things around, I realised, that it has shaped my outlook too.

Today, as I was writing this post, I discovered I had a post in  2009 on ‘IF’ . It is something.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Back to the English textbook. It is in that book that I first read that two lines from ‘If’

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same”

stare at players as they walk into Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

 

I remember talking to my dad about it. And he saying that there is no meaning in victory or defeat without learning the lessons of victory and defeat. His clear voice about letting victories and defeats pass by and seek each new day as a new day sought to make their presence. He would say with emphasis often that there is a cost to victory! And if the cost of victory is greater than the victory itself, there is no point to the victory.

As I wistfully examined medals that were in the trunk, I realised that the real victory was not in getting to wear them then. It has been in moving past them, cherishing the experience of winning and later consigning the medals to the attic.

Pursuits of the present day are morphed forms of medals that I had won back then. Medals that now rest in the dark confines of an old trunk in the attic. To experience and cherish every moment, to be of value to someone, to be grateful for all that has happened. These are my aspirations now.

The medal that I seek is perhaps inner quiet, peace, and lightness. That perhaps is real victory while I scurry around looking for medals and podiums. Today there is even further realisation about real victory. Real victory is beyond paper victories. And certainly beyond sandpaper ones!

 

Annual Sunset

It’s the same Sun that will pop out of the east tomorrow morning. Yet, today’s sunset helps us keep score that one more year has melted. It’s the 31st of December. And this is the ‘Annual Sunset’!  Sunsets are amongst the most enticing of reminders that one more block of time is gone for good. The annual sunset on can be sentimental. Partly, because the world seems eager to be done with it and embrace the shiny’, ‘new’ year!

So, its time to change the printed calendar that hangs on the wall. I have to take care to write ‘2018’ instead of  ‘2017’ on the cheques that I sign. Other than that, nothing changes. Of course, tonight some folks will move in the name of dance, to random noise that’s called music. Everybody will wish each other ‘Happy New Year’ and then go about living their lives with renewed fervour.

By the 8th of Jan, 25% of resolutions “have fallen by the wayside”. “And by the time the year ends, fewer than 10 percent have been fully kept”, says a piece in the New York Times. Thats a colossal underperformance by corporate standards, won’t you think? (Do give the piece a read. Very good pointers )

That of course, is a limited view. Thank God!

What would we do if there was just no chance in hell that we could begin all over again? Even if we knew in the innermost recesses of our hearts that it is the same Sun that will show up tomorrow.  That it’s sinking into the west doesn’t sink with it our warts and wiggles. I wouldn’t mind it taking along with it the credit card bill, the lump of fat on the hip and the sinus in the head. Alas! That said, the new year is special. For it is the chance for some energy into starting all over again.  That is priceless. It fills us with hope and courses a new energy in our fraying minds.

An uncle of mine used to say that this energy would take him through “March – April”! “If you get a few solid wins in this time, who knows, the momentum can take you into June-July”. I find this enticing today.

It makes sense. Once it is July, you are already looking at beginning the countdown to end the year and make a new beginning.  In early October, the uncle would say, ” we are going to end the year”. Looking forward to it like a kid walking with his dad to buy a promised lollipop.  The ‘looking forward to next year’ saw him through the last three-four months.

In one way or the other, he had to wade through pestilence laden waters of ‘what is the meaning of my life’ and such other desultory questions for about five months.  Right in the middle of the year. Those months could seem to have a slower pace to them.  A few other ways to work those months would help. Perhaps breaking the year into smaller bits. Maybe having other special rituals for renewal.

But right now, the Sun is just about downing its shutters for 2017. The mid-year ‘sulk months’ seem a good distance away. Those months will happen when they happen. To make them ‘happening’ is after we take care of this evening and the next few weeks.

I have on my agenda a few must-dos.

Meet friends.

Make white spaces.

Plan well and yet create the space to plan as you go.

Spend time with the little miss. Grow up with her.

Walk. Run.

Take care of the body. And the mind. That’s the best way to take care of the bank account. (“Fixed deposits are best in the bank. Spare your hips”, said a wall scrawl in Madurai ).

Eat vegetables.

Write.  Travel.

Dream.

Do meaningful work.

Shoot the breeze.

That’s the best part of beginning again. For some irrational reason, it fills the heart with hope. As this sunset sinks its teeth into the year’s neck, the fleeting gasps of the setting Sun remind me of the promises that I need to keep. No new promises. Just keeping the old ones is good enough.

That’s as good as it gets. The aim is to go through to the end of March with it. A running coach once sat me down as I shuddered thinking about how I would ever do a 42 KM run. The trick he said, “is not to think of the full 42 KM. But to have a target like “until the end of where the eye can see”.  With the run soaking up most of the energy, my line of sight was often a just a hazy patch. It helped me finish!

So, here is what I am going to do. Soak up the Sun and look forward to the end of March. Maybe, April. Before the blink of the eye, it would be July.  And then, it would be next year.

For now, go dance. Sing. Love.

That’s all there is to it. Besides saying “Happy New Year”!

There are two pigeons that dart on to my balcony. Tilting their necks and looking at me with an odious ‘oh not again’ look. I want to prove them wrong and start somewhere, even as the bright arc of the orange Sun is reduced to crimson splash on the horizon. I pull out my laptop and start typing. “It’s the same Sun that will pop out of the east tomorrow morning. Yet, today’s sunset helps us keep score that one more year has melted. It’s the 31st of December. And this is the ‘Annual Sunset’!  Sunsets are amongst the most enticing of reminders that one more block of time is gone for good. The annual sunset on can be sentimental. Partly, because the world seems eager to be done with it…”