The Good News

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

Thich Nhat Hanh

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

A book & an open road

Decades ago, as we tossed empty ideas into the evening air, my dad jumped to reach a book from his collection. He passed it my way with a flourish and care that he reserved for books he had a special affection for.

The cover said “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig. I thought it was a bag of tricks that would stop my incessant trips to the mechanic (and the consequent demands it had on his frayed wallet). But within a few minutes I spotted in the foreword: “It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.” That was indication enough that what was to come was not as much of a trip to the garage as much as my seeking debates with dad.

Pirsig passed away last week. It caused me to dust off the dog-eared book and go over several underlined passages and random remarks with a firmer handwriting. Pirsig’s account of a motorcycle trip across America with his 11-year-old son and two other friends was not so much a travelogue as it was a treatise. As a young man, the allure of the bike and the open road held together the space for my exploration of his deeper musings. I remember reading and rereading the book. In part for what it offered, but also because I wasn’t able to comprehend all that it offered at one go.

It was much later that I learnt that the book had sold a million copies in the first year and that Pirsig had spent time in Asia (and India) as well. It suddenly seemed to hold greater potency than it had struck me as having when I first read it. The book was published in 1974 but its meandering conversations stand as a poignant pointer for us to examine our world and the times we live in today as well.

The book is set in the ’60s and ’70s. When America and the world was coming to terms with all the scientific advancements and the entirety of its consequences: industrialisation, mass production and other aftermaths including the hippie culture.

One particular incident from the book has stayed with me. Where the narrator takes the motorcycle to the mechanics and is left with a less than happy experience. To put it mildly.

It dawned on me then that a mere mastery over tools is as incomplete an experience as thinking of a home as just bricks and concrete. A home is defined by those who live in it. Similarly much of meaning emerges from our approach to our tools, our work and our lives. Just tools or a mere mastery over them takes us a good distance but it doesn’t complete the journey.

Many pages are devoted to the idea of ‘quality’ in the book. Quality as an unseen yet omnipresent way of working and living. (And not as a limited measure of a person, product or process.) The dusting off of the book brought me front and square with several aspects that have continued to stay with me, both consciously and otherwise: the criticality of the whole self, the heft in exploration and the need to reflect on the lenses we use to view the world around us, etc. But the most important elements, I realise, are the importance of nuance and the need to expand our horizons through reflection, dialogue and conversation.

Nuance, diversity and dialogue have been at the core of several things that we do at Founding Fuel. Take for instance the stellar conversation my colleague NS Ramnath has had with Nicholas Agar, author of The Sceptical Optimist. Do take the time to dive into the piece titled The Sceptical Optimist: A philosopher’s take on technological progress. There are several gems in there that made me pause and ponder over the inevitability of technological progress and the importance of comprehending its consequences.

Technology in the connected world of today is all pervasive. Having said that, both wholesome adoption or blind rejection of technology limit our living in these modern times. Deep questioning, dialogue and inclusive discussions are necessary. As Tom Brokaw said “… it will do us little good to wire the world if we short-circuit our souls”.

There is a heap of work to be done. Even as the spotlight remains trained on the tools and all the glamour associated with what they can do, there are other spaces that we need to train our attention on as well. Especially in the space where technology intersects with our lives and changes us and our societies forever. I will leave you with that thought.

The other thing that I want to leave you with is an invitation to stay connected here, and subscribe to Founding Fuel’s newsletter if you haven’t already. May I also invite you to have a conversation on the content here with someone you know. You never know where one conversation can lead you to.

In the spirit of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I am going to indulge myself by leaving you with three quotes from the book to mull over.

“‘What’s new?’ is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question ‘What is best?’”

“If you want to build a factory, or fix a motorcycle, or set a nation right without getting stuck, then classical, structured, dualistic subject-object knowledge, although necessary, isn’t enough. You have to have some feeling for the quality of the work. You have to have a sense of what’s good.”

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”


This piece was first published here.

Future gazing

The few days spent in Washington DC attending the annual conference of the World Future Society was quite an experience. ( Detailed agenda and such else is here ).  I had curated a collection of tweets from the conference and was published by team Founding Fuel earlier.

The future has been a topic of interest for a long while and the new ideas and conversations with several other futurists has only deepened it even further. Our future emerges at a faster clip that we dont often get to see the resultant changes that envelope us. How will our lives change with all the technology around? Will we live longer? Will we be happier? What would we drive around in? How will we learn? What will be life like in the age of our kids? How do we prepare them for that future? And of course, how will the future of work shape up? These and more questions abounded when I went in.

I intend publishing a few more blogposts over the next few weeks and share some ideas, learning and experiences. As always, I seek your responses, comments and ideas.

For now, here is what got published at Founding Fuel earlier.

The Pongal Magic


The birth of the Tamil month of ‘Thai’ occupies a special significance in my heart. For a farmer, ‘Thai’ is the tenth month in the Tamil calendar.  The arrival of ‘Thai’ is celebrated with colour, splendour, nature, gratitude and of course, good food : Pongal, we call it.  For a long while now, Pongal festivities in urban areas have been relegated to a fun bonfire, a fancy ghee dripping Pongal (the dish) and a lazy time in front of the TV.

The festival, though, has a lineage of several thousand years and the least every succeeding generation did was to mark it on the calendar. Which is fantastic. Needless to say, they celebrated in accordance of the times they lived in and added a layer of flavour.

As a kid, I recall running with a carefree energy, in farmlands of a distant dusty village cluster near Madurai in Tamil Nadu on the day of Pongal. Careful not to trample on the colourful ‘Kolams’ that dotted every doorway. Running to see garlanded cows and goats with a fresh coat of paint donning their horns.  Jostling to get a better glimpse of events at the village centre, atop the shoulders of uncles and cousins.  A uniquely rural Indian moment, if you will. Replete with painted horns matched in their colour by glaring ribbons, and blaring megaphones.  Shy women stood at the doorway of quaint houses and watched drunken men, cows, and kids like us traipse by.  The world seemed to have a spring in its step.

That is my memory of Pongal. There was magic in the air. The Pongal magic.

For long, I believed that it was ‘Thai’ that did it. For it heralded new beginnings. It meant that there was a shift in the seasons. The seeds that were sown months ago and nurtured over several months had morphed into something else. Grain. Food. It was time for a harvest. It was time for abundance.

To date, on Pongal day, a traditional Tamil rural household converges outside of their homes under the benign grandeur of the Sun God and cook. Boiling the milk and adding freshly harvested rice, even as it overflows, to signify gratitude and abundance. Or at least, that’s the story I have experienced.

‘Thai Piranthaal Vazhi Pirakkum’ they say. ‘When the month of Thai arrives, opportunities arrive’ is a loose translation.

The urbanisation of our lifestyles has drifted away from the rhythms of its rural origins. Retaining the ritual and missing the flavour. Yet, the spirit of the festival permeates the mid-January air.

Sometimes, that’s all that matter.

Here’s to a super Pongal. May there be new vistas for health, happiness and fulfilment in all our lives.  And even as they knock on our doors, may we have the prescience to hear the knock and open the doors of our soul.

May we live!