Tuesday, August 1

Boundaries

Why do we sometimes allow people to walk all over us while we remain mute spectators to the events unfolding around us? Most of us have been in that place where some people arbitrarily cross boundaries and partake of our time, efforts, money and worst, our emotions. More perplexing is the fact that we allow those people to cross those boundaries often against our will and in spite of ourselves.

Of course not all people impose themselves and neither do we let those lines be erased so easily. It's just the circumstances in which individuals are placed and the their personality types that often leads to these potent combinations. A case in point is, very helpful people in proximity to people every willing to exploit and milk available resources. I belong to the former category and have been actively postioning myself to be in the middle of these two groups, striving to strike that ever elusive "fine" balance.

The reason for this shift wasn't the end result of a well reasoned thought process but a knee- jerk reaction. I simply got tired of being pushed against the wall and being held accountable by haughty people I wasn't answerable to in the first place and who, to put it mildly, wouldn't find their way to a restroom, if left to their own devices. All these years, I knew what was happening but I hadn't reached a breaking point and therefore took a lot of punishment. Boy, am I glad I broke that golden threshold!

Life is so much easier now. I am able to spend time exactly the way I want, with the people I want. Yet it is not without its contradictions. It's tough to resolve a situation where you want to be with a particular person/at a ceratin place but have to be elsewhere due to prior commitments. Even worse is when the past comes calling. Someone from the past requests for help and you are so heavily under an old obligation, that you are compelled to be help them when you would rather be with someone else or at some other place. My point is, that even though I have adopted a new policy, the past will come back to me quite a few times and I will be compelled to help, unless I steel myself to dishonor those obligations. But that won't happen anytime soon.

We draw all these circles around us; boundaries - of all kinds. Social, financial, professional, emotional, physical, ethical and spiritual. All these circles intsersect each other at mutiple points and ultimately define who we are. My web of circles has always been wide and liberal. But the filp side was that the size of the circles soon got out of hand and I was finding myself challenged on all fronts, especially my professional life. Instead of me, other people were pushing those circles further out and I was watching, thinking I could rein them in anytime I wanted. I did rein them in but at considerable effort and pain.

Trying to be "super" all the time was getting tiring. It's an uphill task to be a super friend, a super employee and a super family guy and yet maintain your composure. I am much more comfortable now. I spend my time with the people I want and try to keep my work life within bounds. This has had two effects. Number one, I am happier than I ever was and the time and efforts I spend are worth it, because I am happy doing it.

More importantly, it has freed up time to examine those boundaries. We wonder about these boundaries all the time and try to place them within a broader context. I am not talking about that kind of analysis. The intent is not to break every circle and run amok, but to closely examine each of them. Understand their place and position; what they stand for; the consequences of crossing boundaries and if those consequences matter in the long run. What we expect from life provides the framework for putting these observations in context. Life, of course, throws curved balls at us all the time and priorities change. But if being happy and leading a fulfiling life seems to be a worthy long term goal then those circles shrink or expand by themseleves, in the right proportion, to stike that balance. The conflict between the different dimensions soon ceases. Life has always been good. It just gets better after this.


Tuesday, June 13

Dad a.k.a Baba

I am reading a book by Tim Russert. A few years earlier he had written a book about his father and he received thousands of letters from people telling him stories about their fathers. He compiled them and published a new book called "Wisdom of our Fathers - Lessons and letters from daughters and sons". There are many good stories in those pages. Quite a few subjects repeat but the book is still a good read.

Letters are always great to read. They vivdly encapsulate a moment, a feeling, and they are always so personal.

Obviously, it got me thinking about my father and what stood out was a mindset of an entire generation. A generation, that never ever complained about how hard they had to work, never spoke of how they helped others when they had so little and how unfair life had been to them. Yet they always had a smile on their face and loads of time for us. Always.

My love for hiking comes from my Dad. I have trekked mostly in the Sahyadris. I still remember those hikes. I was 5 years old when I started. But I still had to walk all the way and wasn't picked up by Dad on his shoulders till I was really, really tired.

I remember this hike I went on once.

20 plus years later, I can clearly feel and see that morning. We get off the train at Malavli station on a crisp morning in August. All those mountains and villages are lush green. Not just green but also moist. You can feel the freshness in the air..on your arms and face. A balmy, moist, fresh feeling !! A quick 'Chai' at the 'Tapri' and we are ready to go. I have a small bag strapped on my back with my own tiffin and water bottle packed in it.

We make our way through the village at the base of the mountain. Walking in the narrow paths between those small huts, avoiding the prasad left behind by the cattle, scattering the cackling hens, half-afraid of a dog who has suddenly rushed out from a hutment and is now barking mad. We cross a few fields and begin to leave the village behind us. The fields too gradually give way as the path slopes upwards and the trek begins.

I begin at a brisk pace. In 20 minutes I settle into a certain rythm. The initial soreness in my thighs has gone and soon the whole thing becomes mechanical. The ground is still wet and soft from the rains and the soil sticks in lumps to my soles. The path winds through dense foliage. Ferns, bushes - some thorny, some flowery, vines and creepers - coiled into small, thin trellises. Those tiny springs are very, very strong. If you catch yourself in a bunch of them and just try to break free on brute strength it's pretty hard.

Suddenly, the path opens into a clearing and I find myself on a plateau, the size of a small field. The path continues upwards beyond the clearing. I look down and notice that we have cilmbed so little!!

We rest for a minute or two. Dad lets me have a sip from the water bottle. Warns me to not drink a lot because I will feel bloated and my stomach will hurt.We pick our backpacks and move on. By now I have developed a sense of the terrain. Just a glance at the jutting rocks is enough. I can tell which ones are safe to put my feet on and which ones to avoid.

But it's not a dull, quiet walk. My father keeps me engaged in conversation. Telling me about the worms we see on the way, stopping ocassionaly to show something. He talks about how they eat soil and fallen leaves. How they make soil fertile for plants to grow. I am amazed and from then on I carefully avoid stepping on them deliberately. He shows me caterpillars feeding on leaves and tells me about cocoons (he called them their sleeping bags!) and butterflies. (I was a pro at catching butterfiles. Small, yellow ones. I wld creep on them and catch 'em. Very carefully and gently though)

We ocassionaly cross small streams and come to a sizeable one. I wash my face. Not that it needs washing, but it feels so nice. I kneel beside the flowing stream and drink. Feels good. Dad is busy opening the sack. He has a surprise for me. Santosh Bakery Pattice and sandwiches!! I love them. (I still do. Small surprises from parents and friends always make my day). They are gone in an eye-wink. I wash them down with water and feel a lot better.

I wonder how much longer it will take. I am getting sore. The straps on the backpack are beginning to chaff on my shoulders, my shoes are all wet and my toes hurt. I sit down and refuse to go on. Dad cheers me and says we only have a little to go. "Ajun thodach rahilay. Just beyond that big rock with that tree beside it" I believe him and we start moving. We reach that tree and still no signs of the top. We pass that marker and are still walking. I start to complain and he again cheers me. "Almost there son, just a little more, beyond that stream". I say no, but he persists. Very subtly (I now realize) he diverts my attention with a story.(That genle, calming voice has stayed with me for good. Whenever I am in a shit hole in life, I can hear him say, "Ajun thodach. Keep going. Never give up")

We finally reach the top. Dad coaxing me all the way, cheering. We walk around the fort and he tells me stories about Shivaji! In my mind, I can see the fort surounded by the enemy, their horses kicking up dust as the troops throw a ring around the fort. The wily Shiva, holding the fort bravely, leading his men, eventually escaping under the enemy's noses. (In fact, I first heard about a successful retreat from these Shivaji stories. If you are cornered, helpless, don't try to be a hero and fight. When surrounded, use common sense. You can thrive tomorrow if you survive today. Just do what it takes to get out in one piece)

We have a hearty lunch and sleep under a shady tree for 30 min and then start on our way down.We take another route on the way down. My sack is a lot lighter now. The pressure begins to build on my toes on the downward slopes and it really hurts. I can't balance well on downward slopes. I slip, fall, get up and fall again. He teaches me how to place my feet so I don' slip and fall. He holds my hand till I get the hang of it and I don't land on my bum anymore!

We reach a stream on the way back. The water pours down from a waterfall onto a rocky bed, flows along a flat patch of about 15 feet, jumps off a rock and goes down. I have to ford the stream in that flat part. He asks me to cross by myself. I am a little apprehensive. The water is moving fast. I know I have to be careful. It's almost 10 feet across. I pick my way gingerly over the slippery, mossy, rounded pebbles.I am almost at the other end. I reach out for a rock to use as a support to pull myself up.

All I have to do is haul myself five feet over the muddy bank when...

I slip...my legs give away and I am suddenly being washed down. Dad is in the water in an instant. My reflexes kick in and I grap a protuding root of a tree on the other bank. I hold tight but I am very, very scared now. The color has drained from my face. I feel a cold grip inside me. I know that all I need to do is pull myself up but I just can't. Just can't. And I hear his strong booming voice call out my name, "Sameer, Sameer, Listen to me. COME ON. YOU CAN DO IT! Come on. Don't just hang in there doing nothing. That won't help. Pull up, Hold tight, pull, Good...good..come on, up, up. Go ahead..DO IT..yesss"

His voice brings me back to my senses. I snap back in an instant and scramble up the bank, shaken, bruised and dirty. I don't tell him how scared I am as I think about what could have happened. I just sit there shaking. I am ok in a few minutes and we come down without any misadventures.

That night, like all other hiking nights, he pressed my legs till I went to sleep. He woke me up the next morning at 6:30 a.m. "Sameer, ooth, it's Monday. Aaj shala aahe na? Chal" I didn't want to get up. I was so tired but it wasn't a choice I had.

I had to go to school, especially after a trek. No bunking. That was the rule. The only sop offered was that I could sleep for 15 more minutes, skip the school rickshaw and he would drop me to school on his motorcycle. I was allowed to sleep after I came back from school. If I went on really big hikes, I got 5-Star chocolate bars the next day!!

I can never fully express how his words buoyed my spirits on that muddy bank. Nothing gets me down for a long time after that because I know that if I persist I will prevail. And that's all that matters!


Sunday, June 11

Joke

HEALTH QUESTION & ANSWER SESSION

Q: I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life; is this true?

A: Your heart is only good for so many beats, and that's it... don't waste them on exercise. Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer; that's like saying you can extend the life of your car by driving it faster. Want to live longer? Take a nap.

Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables?
A: You must grasp logistical efficiencies. What does a cow eat? Hay and corn. And what are these? Vegetables. So a steak is nothing more than an efficient mechanism of delivering vegetables to your system.

Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?
A: No, not at all. Wine is made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine, that means they take the water out of the fruity bit so you get even more of the goodness that way. Beer is also made out of grain. Bottoms up!

Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?
A: Well, if you have a body and you have fat, your ratio is one to one.
If you have two bodies, your ratio is two to one, etc.

Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?
A: Can't think of a single one, sorry. My philosophy is: No Pain...Good!

Q: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?
A: Definitely not! When you exercise a muscle, it gets bigger. You should only be doing sit-ups if you want a bigger stomach.

Q: Is chocolate bad for me?
A: Are you crazy? HELLO Cocoa beans! Another vegetable!!! It's the best feel-good food around!

Q: Is swimming good for your figure?
A: If swimming is good for your figure, explain whales to me.


Well, I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have had about food and diets.
And remember: Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways - Chardonnay in one hand - chocolate in the other - body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO HOO, What a Ride!


Reservations

The dust seems to have settled a little on the reservation debate. At least the students are not striking any more. Arjun Singh and other ministers will continue to increase quotas and the castes, groups and tribes included in those quotas. That is what career politicians do. Pamper the electorate so that they get elected again.

Like an unholy nexus between some managers and employees. A manager caught cavorting with the secretary on a quiet weekend will promise you a good review and a raise. In return, you keep quiet and let the matter slide! ;) You can also work a little less and there will be no questions asked. In fact, there is an ad on TV on this theme. :)

Neither of them is doing the right thing. Both are custodians of the company's wealth. Mere trustees. But both of them are abusing it to achieve their ends. That's just plain wrong. Anyway.

This blog entry is about the role the media is playing in Mandal II. The next one will be on the validity of reservations. Moving on!

Do we need reservations in India? If you had asked me a few days ago my answer would be an emphatic 'No'. But I have been reading about it and now I am not so sure. Here is why.

When the AIIMS docs struck work, the media completely sided with them. In fact, in some cases it was difficult to distinguish between the journalist reporting the event and the students. Both were equally animated and passionate. The AIIMS administration also sided with the students. Earlier in the year, when the docs threated a strike over a hike in patient fees, the same management warned them of dire consequences. That management was surprisingly quiet this time. Why did they not take any action?

In fact, there is a High Court order that prohibits demonstrations on the AIIMS campus (Makes sense. There are sick ppl inside). Even then there were huge tents, coolers and what have you, put up inside the campus. And what about patients who lay sick? Army docs had to be called in to keep services going.
Should the doctors licenses be revoked for breaching the Hippocratic Oath?

The media indulged the students for a full month. And how did some of the students protest? Mind you, not all of them, some of them. By sweeping roads, polishing shoes, etc. Weren't they hurting their own cause by mocking the Dalits in such an insensitive manner? Some of them were heard shouting on TV microphones "Abey, apni aukaad me rahiyo". Really? Is this the attitude of these "open" category docs? Is this what they will say when a poor backward class guy shows up for treatment? There were other groups at AIIMS protesting FOR reservations. The media just ignored them. Did we hear anything about them? Not until a citizen reporter sent in a video tape he had shot himself. A dalit woman was raped and paraded naked a few months ago. Did the media follow up on it? Only for a day! And not because they cared for the poor woman but because stripping and parading someone naked will attract more mouse clicks from jaded readers looking for something sensational. That's all.

Can all this be construed as proof positive that OBC's and Dalit's ARE in fact discriminated against. Upper class editors led the charge in biased coverage of events this time!

In an ideal world where professionalism is idolized, the social background of a journalist should not matter. But in reality some story ideas will be dropped or might only be covered from a particular perspective. The media is already going downhill. Think about it. We have more ads, less news, lack of coverage of rural India, mindless trivia and unbirdled sensationalism. These problems wont be fixed by hiring more Dalit, OBC, and Muslim journalists. But greater workplace diversity will certainly infuse a greater degree of vitality in the newsroom because wider varieties of lived experiences will clash and a more balanced view is likely to emerge.

A Delhi slum called Nangla Machi was razed last year. 1,00,000 people were left homeless. 6,000 houses demolished. The same Govt. that had put house numbers on their shanties, erased them with paint and then bulldozed them. The CDSS had given computers to the teenagers there. The blogs and the diaries they wrote are really moving and good. So there is no reason to think that these people can't write. Maybe not in English right now, but with some training they can.

So that's what the media could do to correct things. They are the ones who influence our opinions evey day. If they are not objective, our opinions will be skewed and will do a lot more damage to society. We too must examine the issue in its details. Off-the-cuff assesments born out of lifelong prejudices will deepen the divide.

More on reservation quota percentages, the validity of using caste as an indicator of backwardness and using reservations as a fix-all for our problems next time.

Thursday, April 21

Too much hate or too much love? :)

Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn't it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life...You give them a piece of you. They didn't ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn't your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so simple a phrase like 'maybe we should be just friends' turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It's a soul-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. I hate love.

Wednesday, June 30

Intimations of immortality..

"Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears;
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."
-- Wordsworth.


Tuesday, June 29

Hello World!

Hey,
Can't think of anything to post right now. Also I am kinda busy. Will post something soon. So long.....