Tuesday, September 06, 2011


The air smells thick. It feels like thoughts - deep, atavistic, ephemeral notions of what was, what could have been, what will never be.
It might have been the 96% humidity in the air, or it might have been the fact that no matter what economists say, some things don't change. The buildings might have been newly constructed, but the hands that built them are old. The dogs that nuzzle under the ancient rusty bicycles might be young, but their lineage is ancient. If mutts have lineages, that is. The kids who run to the school bus are just more recent models of him and his friends from twenty years ago. Minus the He-Man bag, plus the cellphones.
Going to the place you grew up is supposed to fill you with nostalgia, not nausea. It's supposed to bring back only the good memories, not the half-wished ones, not the curbed dreams, not the unfulfilled desires, not the unfinished stories.
As he walked these streets again after twelve years, he finally found resolution in one distilling thought - he had left to fill others' cup with good memories, to fulfill dreams and desires, to finish the story - for others. And that is what matters in the end.
That someone's walk down memory lane is nostalgic and pleasant because of him.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Be dillogical!

It's hard to say where and when inspiration will strike. This time, it's Lays chips and their very clever tag-line "Be dil-logical". It gave me reason to pause and consider where I fall on the spectrum - more dil or more logic?
At work, I'm very little dil. Or so I'd like to think. Until something upsets me and then the waterworks start :)
In personal life, I've been too logical about what relationships are 'good' for me, but then unknowingly, my dil gets me in trouble. The heart and the head are at logger-heads...All. The. Time!
In school, I was too dependable and logical to be any fun. So perhaps that was the least dil-icious time of my life. In college, things turned a little towards the dil side of the dial. And grad school - I pretty much did what my dil dictated for the first four or five years at least. Then I got serious, got a job, worked on my dissertation and got my self-esteem messed up big time, causing the pendulum to swing wildly between dil and logic.
As I write I introspect...and the result of this introspection is that I am neither dil, nor logic...I'm just plain illogical and temperamental and unpredictable! Like the Buddha said, maybe balance is what I need. Or was that from my Calvin and Hobbes comic book?
Like I said, I don't keep track of what inspires my dil...that would be too, hmm, logical :)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Between a rock and a hard place

I watched '127 Hours' today. And was blown away, to say the least. The movie is based on a true incident that happened to Aron Ralston, who documented it in his book (which inspired the title of this post).
*Spoiler alert! For the next two paragraphs.*
Trapped by a boulder in a canyon while hiking in Utah, with no way out and no chance of being rescued, Aron does the unthinkable. He amputates his own arm with a blunt multi-use knife. Slowly, deliberately, literally painstakingly. And then rapels down a cliff, starving and delirious and finally walks miles to his rescue.
While that in itself is incredible, to me what's more incredible is what follows, captured in a 2-minute post-script in the movie. He keeps going! Even today he's an avid climber, continuing to do the same things he used to before this incident. Moreover, he's apparently learned something about his tendency to be alone and disconnected...he's now married and has a son.
It's such a cliche to talk about 'learning from mistakes' and 'picking oneself back up' and so on, but to see a shining example of this is so inspiring. This movie and this story is exactly what I needed. This movie redefines determination, perseverance and hope for me.
Hopefully when I'm caught between a rock and a hard place next time, I won't be afraid to lose a bit of myself in order to find a new me at the end of the journey.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In defense of angst

I've long maintained that there is beauty in pain that's unparalleled by the gloss of joy. Think about the great forms of creative expression - music, art, film-making...If not for true, deep, searing sorrow or pain or suffering, we wouldn't have several masterpieces.
For us lesser mortals not given to creative expressions at the masterpiece level, pain at the very least, acts as a wake-up call. A symptom that something needs fixing. An inner thermostat if you will. In fact, one of my favorite thinkers, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chick-sent-me-high-ee) conceptualized anxiety and boredom as opposite, undesirable ends of a spectrum in which the optimal point is what he called 'flow'...being completely involved in an experience and deriving immense satisfaction and enjoyment from it. The corollary is therefore, that anxiety is a signal that there is lack of equilibrium.
Recognizing this is insufficient...work needs to be done to restore equilibrium and bring back flow. From angst comes insight. From confusion will be born clarity. Passing through fire we emerge pure and slightly wiser than before.
The challenge therefore, is in moving ever onward towards greater insight, clarity and wisdom to keep us in a state of flow.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What I am

This new year I got a very interesting email from a new friend. After recounting all the things he was grateful for in 2010, he ended by saying he's thankful for learning that "everything I'm not makes me everything I am".
How interesting - that's how I feel exactly! While I'd be hard pressed to describe myself or what I want, I can tell you much quicker what I'm not and what I don't want.
I'm not a fan of adventure sports (or any sports); I don't like country music; I'm not religious; I'm not very good with numbers or languages; I'm not interested in accolades; I don't like the idea of sharing passwords; I'm not very politically savvy and I'm not good at flirting with the right guys.
That makes me a bit of a prissy sissy agnostic dumb wallflower. Right?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The gregarious loner

It's the itch again. The uneasiness of the comfort zone. The discomfort of the routine. The predictability of normalcy.
He leaves before dawn in his old car, filling the tires with nitrogen to help them weather the long tough road ahead. He fills his heart and mind with emptiness for the same reason before he sets off.
Fifteen days, 2100 kilometers. He doesn't know where he's going to spend a single night, he doesn't know what he's going to do when he gets there, he doesn't even know where 'there' is. Of the places he sees, most are not even on the map. On any map. The people he meets are four or five degrees of separation away from his friends. "Friends" is an optimistic word...at best he has close acquaintances. Nobody knows his innermost thoughts or desires, nobody knows how he likes his coffee or what he wears to sleep. He thrives on what sociologists call 'weak ties' - people who know people who know people who know him.
He captures sights and sounds on his camera that have never been captured before. He talks to master craftsmen of long-lost arts and traditions, who don't realize that theirs is a dying breed. He plants trees, feeds orphans, rescues suicidal farmers and plays with tiger cubs.
He has interacted with more people than most, yet counts nobody as his own. It is impossible to classify him using any personality theory or typology. He is a contradiction and a paradox, a mystery that should be left unsolved.

This is mostly a true portrait of a friend of mine. As you grow older, you meet fewer and fewer interesting people, mostly because your definition of 'interesting' has evolved with time. Like a drug, you need higher and higher doses of 'cool' for someone to qualify as interesting. With an open mind and a wondering heart though, interesting is to be found everywhere.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Moving beyond jugaad

So I've been back in India for about ten months now. Many others in many other forums have written about their experiences and revelations so I'll focus on just one epiphany I've had. All the hype around India's energy and growth? All true. It's not just restricted to the 'service sector' or to the outsourcing types either. It's true, exciting, entrepreneurial growth, from the ground up. Business sections in libraries and bookstores will yield books written about India's famous 'jugaad' - or creative solutions from atypical sources. Whether it's the makeshift shelter in a water-pipe or the famous washing-machine used to churn lassi, examples of jugaad abound. However, Indian entrepreneurs are moving beyond the current implications of jugaad - temporary, unreliable, cheap, makeshift solutions which are creative, no doubt, but nevertheless, difficult to scale. With our newfound business savvy and global mindset, not to mention our innate flexibility combined with creative problem solving, examples of true entrepreneurship are everywhere. In areas as diverse as tackling social issues like poverty, waste management, road safety, healthcare and education, creative geniuses are combining jugaad-like inspired solutions with business-school-inspired implementation plans. This I believe, is the true secret to India's future success.