Mama’s boy

I mean I did used to wonder a lot about the way I am. The visible flamboyance is not a family trait. I didn’t get that from aping the way of my folks. If I had to copy their way of life, I think I’d have grown up being modest, humble and firmly grounded. That , very clearly, hasn’t been the case.

And so there I was, eyes glued to the smart phone. I was catching up on my reading for the day when I opened a door without a second thought. The lady on the other side hadn’t quite anticipated that. The surprise rendered her jumpy. I meekly apologised for startling her. We exchanged a smile, we spoke about how ineffective the maintenance team was, when it came to addressing the woes around the lift. We parted ways without a wonder and that was just that. The story was also a subtle tale of my lifestyle. I’m quick into a small talk. I ease my way into conversations and I exit off them as I please. Moments , as random as these, I make an effort to fill them with strangers. While this doesn’t make me any special, this always ensures that I’m never too bored.

And fast forward to the Saturday that followed. The day was new and challenges were new too. I got to introduce the wonders of the ‘Oyster card’ to my parents. We had decided to commute to ‘East Ham’. A place far away from Chennai and the kind of place that was Chennai-like in many ways. Dad enjoys such travels and the carrot that I used to entice mom was a promise of a temple that was there. Throw in a temple and my mom would gladly make that effort to commute.

Travelling with aged parents is both stressful and a deeply satisfying affair. The super off peak travel ensured that I didn’t have to worry about Londoners who were on a time bound quest to get form point A to point B. The carriage was nearly empty and despite all the planning, my mom had plans of her own. She separated from the herd of three and managed to acquire a seat.

As the train picked speed, she tumbled from the acceleration. Fortunately, no harm done. She managed to recover and took her intended seat on the train.

The onlookers expressed their healthy concern. A quick enquiry over the incident later, they went about their business. Mom and her new neighbour got into a conversation about how the KumKum bindi is a quintessential Indian thingy. ‘I’m sorry if I caused a stir’ my mom casually implied.

I was standing right by my dad when I overheard her statement. It took me by surprise. And so there she was, my mum, casually building conversations with folks around her. She offered to manage the neighbour’s kid on the train. A few Long-enough conversations later, it was the time to jump stations and take a new train. She got off without an adventure. Dad managed his solo exit too.

The next train was another long ride and this time, mom’s network with strangers around was on wonderful display. Effortlessly, she was every bit a Londoner. She was more a Londoner than I had ever been. She embraced the new land, the new people in it. The world was her muse and conversations were at her easy disposal. I stopped trying to babysit mom.

Dad was busy comparing notes from the land he had visited 3 decades ago. A lot had changed and a lot yet remained to be the same. The sunny , hot city was a new. The ambience of East ham was a new. The saravana bhavan continued to remain the same. England’s happy win added a certain charm to the city. The flags swayed proudly and the pubs were humming with a jolly score. The city started to paint itself in red. The sun wasn’t a bother anymore.

I’ve set aside my immediate fears of how my folks would cope up with this new world. They are doing fine. In fact, they are doing much better than what I’ve managed. Most evenings when I return from work, they do have a story to share. Their world of the usual shop runs, the giggles over groceries, new faces and tiny tales, I do feel awed by their adventures.

I guess apples don’t fall from Lemon trees. I’m proud to acknowledge that I’m a mama’s boy. Glad that I got that from her! It does compensate for the other vices that I’m proficient with.

I do have a question outstanding that waiting to be answered. Why is the district line named the way it is? I hadn’t really thought of that ever. Leave it to dad to ask sensible questions!

Karthik

Advertisements

And what if I told you

Oh there is something absolutely romantic and loaded with a sense of a purpose that spans a lifetime when we make a promise to take a secret to our grave. I can almost visualise the cinematic experience to the moment. Blackened clouds, rainfall over a freshly dug grave. There is a good chance that I’d be tossed into a furnace, but then I do digress. Back to the picturesque view of the immediate beyond. Cemetery, red roses, black dresses and a matching umbrella of black, rainfall. A bloke six feet under and a secret buried along.

And that’s precisely where the pointlessness starts. For starters; Secrets, promises, grudges and many billion moments remembered are memories. And what if I told you that the mind is neither the best or the most reliable scribe. I’m not talking about the mind’s ability to forget. I’m talking about the other side of the spectrum. The mind remembers what it wants to remember. What it wants to remember isn’t necessarily the absolute true north reporting of an event that occurred.

Memory is , at best, a placeholder. It is a flagging of a moment. Most of us pin that flag to remind ourselves that a certain event had occurred. A lot of us manage to retain some of the details and specifics of things that transpired. A very few of us retain the details without applying a bias. To present a simplified view of the process, a memory can be summed as

Memory = What happened + How we felt when things happened + What we thought led to that event transpire + Our reaction to that event + How we processed the moment of the reveal + Our bias on the all the participants who contributed to that event + HOW WE THEN WENT ABOUT ARTICULATING ON THAT MEMORY.

A memory is not as simple as a recording of what happened. It’s a recording of who you were when things happened. No wonder that a memory is a deeply personal affair.

That said and established, all of us change over time and only few of us have the courage to accept that change. History only repeats itself as long as we fail to acknowledge that we aren’t the same person that we once were. The longer we cling on to what we were, the longer the history runs on a loop. Memory is one massive contributing factor that keeps us glued to the person that we once were. Memories keep us away from embracing the present.

While the power of memory, and by implication the past , cannot be trivialised ; it’s also worth the while to ponder over how unreliable a memory is. The world of humans define the rest of their lives , basing their entire life on something that is biased, unreliable and not necessarily even true. There are truths and then there are versions of that truth. A lot of our decision making process relies heavily on these versions of the truth.

Only we fail to recognise the subtle difference between truth and it’s many diverse versions.

What got me thinking about memory is the conviction with which my Grand father reminded me that I had squandered away a life. His view of the truth was that during my days as a musician, I was crowded and adored by the huge fan base of groupies. He said I had skipped the phase of finding a right life partner. My grand pa believes in this view of my history with all his heart. He swears by it.

My version of the truth is that my band never did have any fan base. We weren’t even cool enough to have groupies. We were a bunch of guys, who were in it for the thrills of the music. My gramps has managed that alternate history for a few years now and with each year passing, his certainty of that alternate history keeps growing stronger.

My grand pa is not all that very unique and special. I’ve had many memories , the bubbles of them, shattered over in time. I came to terms with other versions of the truth that weren’t necessarily mine. In time, through growing a little wise, through unlearning and adapting an open mind, I’ve come to realise that a lot of the past that I retell, are only accounts of what I think happened. They are in no way an honest to god, truth to the line reporting of events.

It’s just sad that we , as normal ; average ; mundane ;sober and rational people, invest so much effort , time and emotions into Hate, Grudge, Love, Past that it alters the very present of our existence. We live in a fool’s world, base our decisions on a fool’s gold chest of memories, reason out that ours is the only version of the truth and that there doesn’t exist another form of the truth. It’s just way too many decisions being made on a shaky foundation.

And in that sense, what if I told you that most of our lives are based on a Lie? A lie of our choosing and making.

Karthik

Breaking ICE

Some times I do feel bad for speakers. Addressing a gathering is not a walk in the park. The nature of the audience is unpredictable and their enthusiastic participation is always an uncertainty. Just typing that sentence, I’m flooded with images of poor blokes , holding their fancy microphones, pleading with the audience for an interaction.

Many stages have endured and survived the noisy symphony orchestrated by crickets!

Ice breakers are the best of the lot. Humour is a default trait that everybody expects from a bearer of the microphone. I mean, Frodo’s burden was a breeze in direct comparison. In the name of humour, there is a lot of funny business at play. I happened to sit through a session recently. I was an unexpected invite and I had to oblige.

‘Would you jump off a plane, if I were to give you a £1000 ?’ the hopeful speaker started the conversation.

Luck, as he knew it, had apparently run out. After a long day’s work, I was itching to let a little steam off. Someone saw my childlike face and decided that I’d make the best of scapegoats to pump questions that would render me nervous and hence help establish and make a point. Yeah. Luck had changed hands.

Sure, why not. I replied. From the immediate reaction of the speaker, it wasn’t hard to notice two things. One, he wasn’t an experienced speaker. Two, his usual target audience were not in the habit of throwing a few punches.

He posed the question to a few more lambs and as certain as the number of hair on my head, most of them had replied that they wouldn’t.

The ice now broken, the message could be delivered. He wanted to strive the point of having an open mind. Open mind mandated that jumping of a plane that wasn’t flying was a safe affair and an easy buck to earn.

I giggled my devious smile.

‘Yeah, what airplane are we talking about?, I shot back.

‘What, beg your pardon?’

‘All I’m saying is that If one were to jump from an A-380, the one that’s parked in the hanger. I’d still break a lot of bones. It’s not all that joyful experience. It’s now a question of how desperate I am to earn that £1000.’

‘Good point sir. I’m sorry what’s your name? That’s a fair point. One has to always evaluate what one will do to achieve what they want’, he tried to reclaim his session.

‘Katz. I mean, if you were to ponder over that for a minute, Let me pose another question. If I knew the cost of medical aid of broken bones, then I’d know if that £1000 is worth the effort. In which case, the status quo changes. It’s now a question of knowing the variables and arriving at a decision.’

There is a moment in time when the audience shifts their attention by realigning the orientation of how they sit. I’ve always enjoyed that attention. In time, I had learnt to stay away from such cheap thrills. In short, it was this breed of arrogance that I spent a few years trying to unlearn. I didn’t particularly want to remain a nice audience.

So far, I do appear as a poster child for a spoilt arrogant brat.

I was in fact playing a vigilante. The session was about a glorified PONZI scam.

I felt nauseated by the fact that a few suits had the right set of words to manipulate the lambs by selling them their dreams. I couldn’t , wouldn’t tolerate the illicit gamble of people’s misery. Greed deserved greed. Not misery.

The introduction spoilt, I piped down. I knew I’d have more opportunities to crash that party. I didn’t have to wait long.

So, what is success? Another bloke opened up the forum. Is it money? Is it fame? and then went on to engage the audience over how altruism captures a place in history and not fortunes and fame.

Interesting point there. It was pleasant to see Bill Gates, Mahatma and Mother Theresa feature in the same statement. And I put my hands up.

‘Yes, Katz’ the speaker paused.

‘I’m all in for altruism. Gandhi ji got shot. Billy and Mother got raked into a billion controversies over ethics. The big deal with altruism is that when there is a generous supply of money and social service dragged into the same sentence, There is usually a lot of allegations of foul. Money corrupts. It’s a constant.’

Radio silence.

‘Any case, I do find it interesting that the pitch first spoke about owning a TESLA, 4 international holidays, money in 7 figures and as a foot note, social care. Makes me wonder if the priorities featured in the exact same way as presented’

‘It’s always not about the money’ the defence was offered. The point already made and the damage quite dealt, I had managed to leave 5 folks with questions over the smoke dream that they were being sold. The rest, focused on the greed that eyes could carry.

As etiquette mandated , I had to manage a saving grace. ‘Oh don’t worry about my questions. I like to ask the hard ones to ensure that I’m doing the right things. I’m convinced that I’m in the right place. Thanks for the wonderful session’ I smiled my fakest smile. The condescension in my voice missed most but hurt the intended target.

I walked off the session with a thought.

Maybe I am in the wrong line of business. Maybe I have the gift of glib and my resistance towards leading the lambs to temptation is the summary of everything that is wrong with my life.

I felt I’d be immensely successful in the business of deception. I walked back home knowing that I’d never let myself buy my red Jaguar by robbing the dreams and hopes of the people I barely knew. A conscience is a terrible thing to have. Especially if you have the potential to be bad.

Cest la vie!!!!!

Karthik

[Book Review]: The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian , Han Kang.

There is no easy way to say this. This is a complex book that dwells in the abyss that is the human mind. It toys around with emotions and is rather cold and stoic in the way it settles to narrate the tale of two sisters , Yeong – Hye and In-Hye.

Yeong- Hye leads a pretty normal life. The term normal is an understatement. If I had to trivialise a loveless marriage, emotional impotence, suppressed insecurities, passive aggression, masked intolerance, manipulative relationship, pretend smiles as a BAU normal of a life, then yes, Yeong does lead a normal life. One fine day, she decides to become a vegetarian. She rejects meat of any kind into her diet. This leaves her husband unhappy.

The choice of being a vegetarian, given the Korean context, we are led to believe that the choice is an unpopular one in the society. Yeong’s husband, Mr Cheong is left alone to fend off the snide remarks from the judgemental society. This decision adds tension to their marriage. The family meet up with Yeong’s wider family over a get together and things get worse. Her family feels ashamed of her decision to shun meat. Her dad manages to slap some sense into her.

Push comes to shove and plot details later Yeong gets committed into a mental institution. Oh boy, this is a hard book to review without giving away the plot. I shall have to adopt a different strategy to review the book.

Lets focus on the themes instead.

What is beauty? What one finds ugly is someone else’s white swan. The age old word that says beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, while that makes sense, it’s also worth the while to note that the eyes that see you as beautiful, do they belong to the people in your immediate world? The book establishes the reality of an unsatisfying relationship. The lack of emotional and physical satisfaction and it’s effect on a relationship is horrifically screamed out in a gentle whisper.

Then comes the whole big bang around the nature of oppression. The tale is about oppression. The tale is about violence. The tale is about the might of the will of a few to crush and stamp on the voice of the others. This is a tale of how fractured people and the way they cope up with a flawed life. What choices do we have? Are we strong enough to even make choices? The helplessness of the circumstance would leave us with thoughts and a tinge of depression.

And then comes the theme around choices. There comes a point in time when we have a moment of pristine , demented, twisted catharsis. We act on that impulse and that action goes on to define the way of our life. How far would one go on that conviction? How far would you defend the honour of your choice? How far would you go? What is the extent of what you’d endure and survive in order to hold on to that singular, one and only hope-like thought of a choice? Our protagonist’s choice to be a vegetarian is one such choice. It spawns from a nightmare and Yeong does what she thinks is the right thing to do. The entire tale is her testament to that choice.

The whole book is a glance into the psychology of a person. From a nightmare to a choice. From a choice to an Action. From reasons around that nightmare to the mind’s projection of what it experienced to what it presents as a nightmare? The whole world of interpretation of intent, cause, symbols and their meanings, this book effortlessly tosses all of that out of the window. The book doesn’t pretend to be a super smart , slick dissertation of the human psychology. It does manage to beautifully outline the consequences of gradual and consistent fracture of the self over prolonged duration of time.

The other big theme in the book is Violence. This is a tricky subject. The violence that Yeong endures is almost a 360 degree wrap.

From physical to emotional, from carnal to exploitation, the violence again this woman comes hidden behind masks of varying socially accepted norms.

It makes us question the status quo of right versus wrong. It holds a big ugly mirror that reflects the archaic values ingrained into a patriarchal society.

What stood out in the book is the history shared by the two sisters. It left me numb through implied pain. The little things that had no significant value , the way the little things add up and in retrospect, turn out to be a series of massive life changers, the tale of the two sisters is a culmination of what ifs and regrets. The subtle horror would run chills down your spine.

The rest of the book is around life, death, and death that one endures through each day of a life. The book also elaborates the soul’s metamorphosis into a butterfly. There is far too much going around in this book. The beauty of this is that you get to take what you want to take away from the book.

It is a definite read, if you are used to reading between the lines. There is so much said across everything that is left unsaid.

Karthik

Coming up next : Shantaram.

The reluctant commitment

I do have reasons to believe that I’ve evolved into a commitment-phobe. It’s easier to wing things than slow down, make choices, stick to them and see them all through.

The big deal with commitment is that it takes up a significant portion of your life and your lifestyle. I had dreaded that for the longest while. Let me tell you this though, no amount of preparation and planning, no amount of think tanking around the statement actually does warrant your readiness when the push comes to shove. My tryst with such a commitment started a few weeks ago. The choice waiting to be made, the choice that I kept stalling for no definite reason, the mind games had began.

The most sanest thing that I could think about was to sit down and weigh the options. To do or not to do was apparently the question. The biggest win in the not to do list was comfort. I’m used to being me. I’m used to living like a part saint, part hobo, full on lazy. Commitment was a road towards a more disciplined living, or so I had began to ponder.

On the other hand, the biggest win on the To do and go for it list was the fact that I thought I really , really, really wanted it.

I have a monkey’s heart and I have an attention span of a kid jacked high on sugar.

On the best given day, I want everything under the sky. A few moments later, on the same best given day, I’d pretty much enjoy to be left all alone and not change or budge a thing. In short, I have a heart that is a monkey. It jumps and jumps and it’s never slowed down through the ages.

The two sides called out, it was time to start investing a serious thought into the decision making process. I had to consider the financial implications of the change. I thought I could muster it. A fancy spreadsheet later, I braced myself for the hike in the OPex of life. There wasn’t much I could do about it. Either ignore the change and coast through life without changing the status quo or embrace that change and plan things around it. On the other hand, the change seemed to be exciting. All changes do seem exciting at first.

The next round was that of getting my decision vetted with a few minds. The usual came to the mix. Go for it. Are you nuts? The mixed reactions were here to stay. Nothing about life seldom attracts a homogeneous reaction. The advices made me think for a bit. The decision was already made and I wasn’t going to back away from it. Interesting thing about decisions is that some folks ask about and then step into the process of deciding. I usually decide and then ask. If folks have nothing to dissuade me , I go right ahead. If folks do have some compelling reason that I’d have missed, mostly I go ahead with an understanding of what consequences to brace. There are a few times when I pay heed to that compelling reason and revert the decision of my own. It’s not a scientific means of attaining nirvana to the daily decision making process of life. It does help me coast through by owning up my choices and living past the consequences.

Ever noticed? The idea of an idea always seems enticing and inviting. It sweeps our imagination. It helps us jump start our motivations. Then the reality seeps in and there is , usually , a disconnect. What you think you’d eventually land with is not always arrived on the first day of landing on the things that you had imagined. It always takes a while to adapt, evolve and there is a sad period of time involved in growing warm and accustomed to the altered way of life.

That was it. Once again, I experienced it first hand.

The choice to pick a Nespresso coffee maker was neither hard nor easy to make. I did go on to wonder about the tenure of the said relationship. I didn’t know if I’d stick around to enjoy a lifetime worth of a coffee. I thought it would be a nice buy. I always fancied a red and chrome coffee maker. The always , in this case, translates to around 5 days.

The options explored, the money worked out, it was now a question of a desire to change the way I made coffee. A bachelor’s coffee, rather this bachelor’s coffee had its roots in black magic. Water in the kettle, milk from the fridge, cup (washed with contempt , once a week) and I managed to concoct something that resembled an Americano, which wasn’t quite that. There were days when I’d get the proportions horribly wrong and end up with a very diluted cup. There were days when milk would flow through heavens and I’d end up with a milkier than milk cup of joe. Lousy cup of coffee seemed to be a constant.

That’s not changed though. Setting up the machine was a breeze. Plug and play, load the cartridge, press a button and it spewed a hot, perfect cup of espresso. Only I don’t prefer an espresso. The monkey games began and I tried to filled around the delicate balance of frothing the perfect cup of milk. Ah yes, the machine came with a frother.

The first shot was fridge from the milk, and strike that. Reverse that. Milk from the fridge , frother later, I managed to concoct a palatable cup of cold coffee. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t hot. Monkey business later, I’m still trying to find the quickest way around a cup of coffee that I’m happy with.

Commitments are that way. Either you chicken out and give up from the minute things don’t fall into place or you fight for what you want and improve your skills in living with your commitments.

So far, the battles have been divided and the war is yet to have the last bloke standing.

There is a lot more to a cup of coffee than just bad coffee!!

Karthik

What to expect when you are expecting

‘And Mr Katz, you do set high expectations for life’ the conversation concluded. It wasn’t a particularly busy day and conversations found their much needed skies to glide. One thing led to another and soon enough we had arrived at the cultural complexity that India can be.

So, consider a bell curve’ I began my monologue. ‘There is that phase of rapid acceleration. Then things stabilise for a while. Comes the phase of gradual decline and finally we get to a point of rapid deterioration. For me , that usually ranges from 15 minutes to a month, at times’ I had gone to explain.

The bell curve was my take on the state cycle of most of my relationships. Currently, the iteration was a tad under a month long. The discovery phase synonymises with the acceleration. Physical and mental attraction do take the precedence. Then comes the phase of getting used to the new person. The stabilisation phase. Then comes the rapid fall out. The cycle comes to a close to usher in a new iteration.

The thoughtful judgement was that I had set high expectations for life. It’s most definitely not the first time I’ve endured that judgement. I used to feel bad about it. I put my mind to it and I had reasoned that I had made poor choices and had stayed dogmatic and frigid around the expectations. Ample time has been invested into that train of retrospective thought and that meant that I wasn’t surprised at the judgement.

However, hearing it again left me thinking around the great expectations of life. While the argument has always been around staying reasonable and grounded with expectations, it has always been around shooting for the moon to land on them stars. The crux of the matter has been around acceptable compromises and letting the expectations go. The not so sugar coated statement would read, ‘Lowering the expectations’.

Expectations are expectations. They are neither great nor low. It’s only when one doesn’t accomplish those said expectations does one start to assess them as great or different grades till the point where one declares Zero expectations.

The ability to accomplish those said expectations are influenced by many factors. I think I’d classify them into two buckets, Ability to accomplish and circumstances that either support or deny such expectations.

Ability is all about the right set of skills that translate into actions which eventually yield the desire. Circumstances are a different breed. Circumstances remain independent of abilities. Circumstances include all the factors that pressure us into thinking and believing that things are now or never and that one must adjust the asks in order to stay happy with the possible , potential outcome that is handy.

The thought made me ponder.

Is it wrong to expect?

Fundamentally, nope. There are people and their faces now flashing in my head who’d challenge me on that. It’s wrong to expect. Do your work and do not worry about the results, is one side of the tale. If you don’t have expectations, you wont have disappointments, says another. In fact, I think I can go ahead and generalise and say that the collective experience of life of others often translates fears, effect of those fears, the means to mitigate those fears often translate to the voice of a change to adjust. Not ADAPT, but adjust.

Bluntly put, I do not enjoy such a defeatist approach to life. It trivialises all the challenges that I have overcome till date.

Is it wrong to not have your expectations met?

Depends. Most of it boils down to the sense of urgency around the context. The eternal fear of scarcity is almost our birth right. For most of us, there usually a never next time. It’s all now or nothing. There is a fine line, which is almost always overlooked , that separates desires and expectations. I desire a red Jaguar is quite different that I expect to own a car by the time I hit 25. Desires can be beyond our capacity to reach but desires don’t keep us stressed and worried. Expectations on the other hand, influence our decisions and do usually affect the life’s many choices that we go on to make.

Given the context around a Red Jaguar and A Car, is it wrong to not own a Red Jaguar? Just by that thought, I don’t think it’s a crime that our expectations are not met. That being said, If one were to not compromise , save up for years and even a decade and eventually buy that red Jaguar, is that the right conclusion?

The answer lies in persistence , action and a commitment to the cause. Without the three, no amount of wait will translate to a tick against the check box.

The big answer to any and all questions on expectations is this, ‘Are you prepared to work towards your expectations? ‘

The not so sugar coated question is ‘ Are you now ready to be sensible and adjust to hat you have? aka Are you ready to give up now?

So, Do I have high expectations of life? Damn straight I do. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m proud that I have set standards that only have to appease to my sensibilities. Such spine comes at a price.

What’s your take on expectations? Do you think there is an ocean of a difference between adjusting and adapting?

Great expectations indeed.

Karthik

Run to the hills

One – Two, One – Two, One- Two, the mantra that I kept chanting in my head. It wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. The steep enough up hill was a challenge of sorts. I didn’t know of an alternate route and was too proud to jump routes now. I was going to do it and I knew it wouldn’t be the end of me. I climbed for as long as I could. I couldn’t maintain the momentum for far too long. It was my first pause, around half way through the hill.

I paused to take a good look around the view. There weren’t many folks above on the path. There were a few below, waiting to catch up. I thought my head would be inundated with thoughts over the magnitude of the moment, or the almost triumph of doing things, or of doubts and protests to give up and turn back towards the comforts of the bed. Nothing. All I could hear were the sounds of my deep panting breaths and the sound of the wind whizzing past me. It was the most precious moment to life. Nothing else existed. The reality was narrow. There was me, there was a hill waiting to be climbed, there was the spirit , fighting against giving up, and there was nothingness to it all.

I took a swig from the water bottle. I packed it in my bag again. I turned to face the hill and One – two, One – two all over again. If only that was the only pause in the climb. It wasn’t. Two more gentle pauses, my ego bruised, but the hill seized and conquered. I sat down thinking about what the hell I was doing on a hill on a rather sunny day.

The tale starts with a tale. Wild, to be precise. Wild , by Cheryl Strayed , is a book about a woman who opts to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It was more than a spur of the moment decision for her. The choice to hike was a momentary decision and she’d go on to plan the hike as meticulously as she could. All the plans and preparation later, she’d realise that no amount of planning could substitute the lessons that experience imparts. She does it for her reasons. She evolves as she keeps pushing forward.

I’ve been through a similar cycle before. I started my fitness routine on that very same impulsive note. I got up one morning and decided that I had to get fitter. A few years later, a lot of challenges and doubts later, I was climbing a novice hill and wondering about how the choices of my life have evolved through time. I’ve always wished to hike. Those wishes decorated the fancy bucket of my bucket list. Wishes that lacked conviction but did carry a nice story to convey. The book was the final straw in the straws of inspiration. I had to had to had to experience a hike. Making my mind wasn’t hard. I set out with two bottles of water and a packet of digestive biscuits.

The thing is, when you are fighting to stabilise your breathing, when you are fighting to keep yourself moving forward through the pain and fatigue, when your mind does not bother prioritising other thoughts and it focuses with determined singular view of the task at hand, none of the world matters. You are left with yourself and your moment. There are no further distractions.

I’ve always believed in that and I’ve practised that. Life’s many lemons are easily forgotten when you invest all the energies into a routine. My routine consists of hitting the gym, making music and writing. Through these activities, I’ve never failed to channelize all my thoughts into a singular activity. Through these activities, I’ve had many moments where I’ve not strayed my mind towards the noise and clutter of the whole wide vast world. Through these, I’ve come to learn that as long as we sit and do nothing, we are free to stay consumed by our thoughts. If we muster the nerve to invest into an activity, that is disconnected and disjoint from the norm of the BAU woes of fears and doubts, we also help ourselves in due course of that process. We change as we invest ourselves to such choices.

There is something at the very centre of our universe which uniformly impacts everything about our lives. That happens to be us. We are neither open nor free to make selective changes that change the outcome of specifics around us. It is the simplest and yet the most elegant display of the butterfly effect. The means of reaching a focused mind, irrespective of what we do, inadvertently calms us down and facilitates a better decision making process through the complex thoughts that our minds host. Folks call this mindfulness. Folks call it the realisation that there is nothing more to us than individual moments that keep the linearity of life connected. I call it the much needed , necessary, timeout from the rapid, quicksand of daily routine. If we continue to do the same thing, continue to think the same way , the outcome would continue to fuel the doubts and fears. The choice of changing the pattern to the things that we do does sow the seeds of subtle changes to our living. In time, the changes are no longer just subtle.

From books to an inspiration. From an inspiration to a cathartic moment, I have two people to thank for the wonderful day of challenging my mind and my body. Cheryl Strayed, the lady who blazed through the PCT and Kanchan Shukla, who recommended the book. Off all the disconnected strings that eventually led to a very tangible , sensible and conspired action, the dots do confirm the butterfly theory.

Here is to life’s many million doors that we are yet to acknowledge their existence. Hope , when the time comes, we have the sight to see them and the heart to act on our desire to open new doors.

Karthik

Finding Zeno!

I’ve stayed fascinated to the Schrodinger’s kitty cat. The cat experiment, I reckon, is a very cruel thought experiment which involves keeping the said cat locked in an irradiated box! The whole question is around the state of uncertainty of the life of the said cat. Arguably, the cat exhibits the duality of both life and death. These are the two possible outcomes and a whole ocean of quantum science around it.

To the lab coats and top aces in the house, I do apologise for my unerwhelming explanation of the phenomenon.

And so the fascination took me back to the same wiki page and I happened to stop by the ZENO effect. The one line that caught my attention read something like this , ‘The zeno effect is known to cause delays to any state of change from the initial’. A URL hop later, the English explanation of the phenomenon could be understood as Zeno and Anti-Zeno are effects that either decelerate or accelerate the change from one state to another. The not so English explanation is that When a delivery manager is standing right behind you and watching you type the code that would fix a defect, the time it takes to get the fix ready is exceptionally longer as compared to the scenario where the manager just shoots a FYA mail rather than watching you like a hungry demented cynical antisocial sociopath.

Before we jump to conclusions about who kept staring at me, back in the day, I used to do that to my team. I’d watch. Fixes would come when they’d come. It gave me a sense of control and assurance that a fix would be on its way. Not that it changed the outcome, but it sure as hell was personally comforting and satisfying experience!!!!!!!

Why not? I was going to shoot other examples around the phenomenon, but the one called out also does satisfy the norm. A watched pressure cooker does seldom whistle ( lessons learnt from last night) .

Why oh why do we assume that our personal supervision is the only contributing factor that ensures a successful completion of a transaction? Does it always work? Will the effect be the same without our presence? What difference does it make, besides adding pressure? Does that also mean introducing pressure always reaps benefit?

Far too many questions for the Friday. Answer is yes and no. It works when it has to. And when you adopt the same singular tunnelled vision view towards all aspects of delivery, chances are that it wont work. Context is king. Timing is the queen. The king and the queen save the kingdom.

There you go. I’ve done my part trying to talk about Zeno in a professional context. Lets push it further to a realm that I’m more excited to talk about. Life.

Outcomes in life are inevitable.

That is a loaded statement. It does not mean that there is a destiny and that everything is ordained. We are here, like a bunch of robots who run on a rather badly written code by the cheapest vendor and are set to operate to deliver predictable outputs. No, that need not be life. That’s not the life that I’d like to live. Outcomes are inevitable because we make choices. We can’t exist without making a choice. In fact, not making a choice is a choice and that choice will lead to an outcome and that outcome is inevitable.

We can either accelerate towards facing that consequence or we can delay it for as long as we can. The further we try to push the consequence, the longer we keep resisting to face that consequence, the longer we stay in misery and woe.

Case in point, my Twelfth grade results. I was optimistic about not faring all that great. I was a bit scared that I might fail the exams. The results declared, my anxiety grew through the roof. The restlessness began to crawl through every cell in my body. I was scared of a bleak future. I was afraid of a million things that were yet to even occur. I was scared because I didn’t know how the future would look like. I was scared because I didn’t know how I had fared in the exams.

I did the best that a kid my age would go. Well not exactly the best. The best would have been the means of studying through the year and staying prepared for acing the exams. I did the second best. I offered my selfish prayers to God. I made shady deals with god. Bribes of coconut and a religious living ever after. The good thing about god is that unless you are blessed with schizo, one usually doesn’t hear her voice.

Then I moved my attention to lady luck. I tempted my fate by tagging patterns and calling bets.

Then came in the Anti-Zeno. I went to collect my results. The numbers were now at hand. Decades later today, I don’t care enough to remember the good numbers. They weren’t good. That I do remember.

The inevitable faced, I hoped that it would be the end of it. Only it wasn’t. The consequence had manifested. I was yet to deal with the effects of the consequences. Now at 35, I think I’ve run my course with the consequence of the numbers that I obtained from the grade. There is no retrospect. There is no what if. It was an experience survived, endured and now comfortably forgotten. I still do have dreams where I see myself in school again. That’s a funny dream. I’m still me at 35 and I’m still at school. It sure does complicate the reactions from my teachers in my dreams.

That’s the thing about many aspects of life. We are what we are today. We aspire something new , some change for tomorrow. We fear the unknown. That fear , sometimes it cripples us so much that we are left unable to do anything at all to inch towards that change. Some times, we brave new odds, face new failures but are on the right track, by moving forward. There are us, who accelerate. There are us who stall.

Staying in the same place is not all that great an option either. It’s not a great alternative plan. Stagnation today is obsolete by tomorrow. Comes back to quantum’s very own Zeno and Anti Zeno.

It might sound like a philosophical association to the vast science to quantum, but hey, that’s how my mind works.

Staying afraid is normal. Everybody is scared. Facing your fears is not the easiest of things to do. It is in fact that most singular HARDEST step in the evolution process. The minute you face, subsequent steps are simpler in comparison.

On that note, a toast to Zeno, Anti-Zeno and Schrodinger’s little kitty cat.

Karthik

Dates miles and milestones

The routine was same every year. My mom would remind me. Dad would remind me. I’d make a note and there were times I’d act on that nudge. There were a few times when I wouldn’t. That just was the way of things. This year, blame it on the warm cup of coffee on a cold rainy Monday morning or blame it on the point in time of my life, I opted to take a moment to smile at the rolling number.

As with most tales, context is the paramount necessity to outline the plot and observe the way the story unfolds. This tale is nearly 3 decades old. Almost the three and that magical oh to it. Its the time to hit that rewind button and keep the tape rolling back to the onset of the 90’s. My second sis was all set to get married. We took a train that took a while to reach a destination. Chennai to Baroda(I cant spell the Vada – dho – dara). To the seven year old me, the 14 hour or so journey was an adventure of its own. I think the train journey was longer than that. My memory does fail me. To the seven year old, it was a new playground of sorts. A big family, mom, Sis, Granny, Gran dad and yours truly. My granddad has always been strict. At 35, I still do fear my granddad a bit. The seven year old version of me, lets say brown pants!

That aside, I still think I tested his nerves a bit. It must have been a nightmare for my mom to manage me and manage my sister. I’m told that my sis wasn’t all too keen to get married , back in the day. Fate had a different story to tell. A story it did go on to tell.

The point of this tale is about the mileage to life. Through my sister and my brother -in- law’s (might as well call him my brother) special date, I reflected on the nature of the way our lives intertwined. My Jiju has seen me grow up from a spoilt little bratty , careless, reckless, hot headed, ill tempered kid to spoilt, not so little, not too bratty, careless, reckless, not too hot headed, not too ill tempered KID.

From being the child in the family, upgrading to be a child among my nephews and princess of a niece, to growing up into the uncle that they inherited and probably deserved, I’ve seen myself and my family evolve through the years. I’d like to believe that the family and I, we’ve taken our sweet time to grow warm to each other. It hasn’t been a single shot tale of immediate family bonding from the moment go. Let’s get reasonable here. I was seven when my sister married. My biggest euphoria was that I had a room of my own. Cant expect the world from a child that young. Cant expect the world from me , even today.

Those summer vacations when my sister would come visiting, the smiles of receiving her and the kids from the railway station, the tears of seeing her off again, the months where the house was filled with fun and excitement and the prolonged silences in the house after they’d leave, the days of sitting down as a gang and playing cards, to taking responsibilities of babysitting the kids, the petty fights over what channel to watch, the years have been loaded with memories. It was great to be in touch. We remained oblivious to the digital age. The anticipation and excitement of waiting for a month from the array of the available 12 made it all worth the while.

From being a child among children, somewhere in time, I had become a stranger among children. The adolescent years were not kind. It was the perfect testing time of sorts. Nativity to blood was lost to bonds of friendships. It was the age of misplaced priorities. It was the age of yearning in silence. I didn’t look back and watch out for the ties that had started to dwindle. I don’t know the silent tears of disappointment from my chosen recluse. The years did come and go. I had survived them to grow a bit wiser. So had my family.

Then came the reprising. There was a point in time when I could associate the calendar dates to project delivery milestone dates. In that process, I also started to notice that I was missing out on the family album. The pursuit of life, a pursuit of career, a desire to still be a part of the family, an awakening to the need to realign priorities later, the road that started taking from that point on began to change. Then came the cycle of being a participant to the way of life to being a consultant. The transition to being a shoulder and tree of dumb , ridiculous advice to the next batch came into being.

Its been a fun ride in retrospect. The magic and warmth of taking a moment from the busy daily schedule and reflecting upon the road that we’ve taken as a family. Life is filled with dates, mileage and milestones that come along the way. Its not the date that hold a meaning. It’s the meaning and association to such dates goes on to define the worth and value of such dates. Of dates , misplaced priorities and realigned priorities. I’d like to fathom a belief that anniversaries are beyond the usual norm of wishing free over an instant message, a status change and update. Keeping ourselves human is an endeavour worth the adventure.

Karthik

Carrots and sambar – A tale of life

And so there I was wondering about the next course of life. It was a busy week and I was leading it through jangling nerves. My body was playing a jazz rhythm of its own.

There has always been a dream. A carrot of carrots , if you may. The dream has been a Remote controlled car. As the years flew by, that obsession to buying an RC car grew stronger. I had reached a point in life where I had grown scared of actually buying one. What if having an RC was pointless? What if it didn’t turn out to be as much fun as I had imagined for well over two decades? What if? In pursuit of keeping the dream alive, I shifted focus to another dream. A red sports car.

The mileage through life has one singular tangible benefit. It’s called a pay check. One could argue that the check wasn’t plenty but it exists and I had to make peace with it. A quick scan , check and compromised acceptance later, I had managed to put a number to another carrot. A carrot in an ocean of carrots.

A red Jaguar, F-Type, the math worked out to £55,000. It was most definitely a compromise of sorts. The entry variant came cheap-ish. The number opened up another series of numbers in the long list of numbers that mandate life. It would probably take me 3 years to save enough to pick one. Adjusting for inflation was another number to deal with. Loans and EMI were numbers that I didn’t want to consider.

With the immediate milestone set, I had other things to plan around. A driver’s license was another headache to sort through. Riding from point A to point B is seldom the point. The free trial exam was a good example of pointlessness of the education system that I had endured. Do you call for help or do you help when someone is injured on the road? Do you overtake or do you wait? Do you honk or do you smile? The questions were plenty and they were trying effortlessly to inspire the civil , obedient , compliant , numbed citizen in me. I soon lost interest.

Then came the logistics of acquiring one. The written exam, now ignored, the actual driving test was another logistics fuelled nightmare. Rent a car that had baby wheels to them. While many of these listed things seem rational and acceptable, to my mind , they were ridiculous. Living in London often translates to sanity that prevails and why one would opt for a public transport than loitering in a car and paying through the roof for parking tickets.

That said, I had carrots to run after. Then came more numbers into the mix. ‘So’, my boss said. ‘Looks like you have plans of swapping a wife for a red sports car!’. And he was right. I hadn’t considered the cost of a marriage or the operational cost of a shared life. More numbers and I could see life slipping away between each line item.

The Monday was harsh and it usually is harsh most Mondays. Issues to resolve, meetings to report, meetings to chair. Monday is the kind of the day when I’m left gasping for air. There are ‘Back to back’ calls and I wish I was still leading the simpler life where I got to join a meeting , place the phone on mute and sit away contemplating the other challenges to life which included, where do I eat tonight , what movie to watch during the weekend, where do ‘We’ go for the weekend, what did ‘we’ almost discuss last evening.

Those days are years and a lifetime ago. There isn’t a going back. The clouds and the silver lining of the mileage is that most things that I talk about, on a professional basis, have consequences tagged to them. Some bear benefits, some flag risks, some put smiles across the customers and some, frowns across the business. Physically present and mentally in a different planet isn’t an option anymore.

And then I said ‘ Sorry, missed that. Was lost in a different train of thought’, I interrupted the meeting. It was a close call. My mind was drifting off and I had to head back into the game. I couldn’t afford to sit and count the carrots in my grocery basket. The iteration lasted a while. Good byes later, another meeting kick started.

With a twenty minute break, I had to make a choice. I had ample time to freshen up, call my folks , pick a sandwich and rush back to desk. No hot lunch and it was the usual norm for the Monday. Freshen up – Check. Call mom and dad – Check. Pick a sandwich – No GO. A glance on the salt and calories label, I had made a choice to pick a coffee rather than a sandwich. The dash back to the meeting was timely. The screen buzzed to life, the mind buzzed with questions, for a while. And then it drifted.

Somewhere between the decisions that impacted the next financial year, I had a concentrated , centred, dedicated focus over wanting to have Sambar for dinner. The breakfast and lunch now skipped, the saving grace was a Sambar dinner. I tried to remember the snapshot of the fridge back home. Onions, nope. Tamarind, nope.Tomatos, iffy at best. Lentils, yup.

‘I’m sorry. Missed that. When do we want that report by?’, I had managed to yank myself away from the distraction and also salvage the damage done. From Jaguar to sambar, the day’s motivations had travelled really far indeed. The commute back home, the shops hopped, things picked. I came home to a hot room. London’s been blazing away , putting Chennai on a jealous spree lately. The bed looked comforting. Homeland had seasons waiting to be watch. The toll of the day, the fatigue of forced fasting, the depression of not having a Jaguar and the anger at the silly stupid process of acquiring a driver’s licence, the defeated victory of having shopped on a tiresome day, I picked the comforts of watching ‘The Alienist’.

Twenty minutes into a distracted watch later, I had had enough. I am going to make that sambar. I am going to eat that sambar today. I had opted against having seeded bread for dinner. I had worked way too hard, sacrificed way too many dreams, made a lot of compromises along the way and I wouldn’t be denied of Sambar that day. I checked the cupboard, I already had a stash of tamarind. Onions were there too. Tomatoes weren’t iffy. Plump and red. Quite obviously, I had imagined the house in a drought.

And so life has many carrots. Some , we choose. Some , others make that choice for us and we aren’t free to speak up and voice against it. Through the many miseries of daily struggles, it’s the simple pleasure and satisfaction of achieving the smaller , insignificant goals to life. I would probably have that Jag in a few years time, I’d probably have a lot of what I desire in course of time. What I really do wish for is that I have a grounded sense to appreciate that I don’t need many carrots, as long as I’m not making a carrot Sambar.

Karthik