Drive vs. Flight

I listen to the sound of the plane passing above me. I look up. I am itching to get on it or for that matter any of the many planes that fly past. Alas, I have a busy schedule to follow. Yet it is tolerant enough to allow the construction of imaginary far-flung spaces I take up, along with my magical reading-writing duo.

As I soak the scene in, I realize that I am more concerned about seeing the different places where I ‘reach’. The journey vaporizes into the fabric of space-time.

I picked up Nicolas Bouvier’s ‘Way of the World’ courtesy of my trusted guide ‘Goodreads’. It stood out thanks to the narrator’s distinctive destination in Khyber Pass. The author narrates his journey from Geneva to Khyber Pass in a car along with his friend Thierry Vernet.

Our sense of drive is deluded by our basic perspective towards life. We undertake a journey to reach a place, undermining the journey’s very essence. What pleasure would it gain on reaching an uncharted route,a  journey undertaken only for the joy of travelling? This is something Nicolas Bouvier answers to in his book.

As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “The greatest affair is to move”. Journey which allows for the confluence of mind and sight is the precursor to vision. Only when I apply my mind and heart to the society’s problems I see before me, can I develop solutions. It is not surprising that many social entrepreneurs are people who possess the lust, not to travel, but to undertake the journey.

The stereotypical image of ‘driving’ is the difficulty of this process. Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors. I, too chip in, “Bumpy roads make the best explorer”. A sense of motion along with the accumulation of various sensory stimuli is the basic ingredient for concocting the untasted and untested. Hitting the road fulfils the pre-requisite to truly enjoying travelling. A journey, however short, if digested slowly has more to offer than the exotic destination alone.

The magnitude of enjoyment can never be fathomed. Yet I believe I have given convincing evidence to show that a 100km drive is better than a holiday to the destination (however utopian it might be) 1000km away.

Citation :

The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner

The pain and bliss of nostalgia

Spending your childhood in Mumbai has a charm of its own. Where people complained of traffic and rush, I was too young to understand any of it. For me, that was the only way of living.

Places changed, people changed, situations changed through my stay of nine years, but one thing which never changed for me were the monsoons of Mumbai. It is of the monsoons which I hold the fondest recollections.

Today, I stand on the balcony and watch the young Ronaldo’s in the rain. I look up to the clouds, which celebrate the happiness below with their applause of incessant rain. It is as if the majestic black clouds notice only the vast fields, sprinkled with merry children, turning a blind eye to the narrow alley of the slum, which fills like the bucket under a tap. I watch the raindrops under the orange light of the lamp-post- my personal rain gauge and anemometer. I mockingly advise the scampering walker-by huddling under the umbrella to enjoy the rain while I stand under the shed. “Oh! This is Delhi”, I think, “People here can never enjoy the rain as us Mumbaikars.”

The dark of the day, the smell of earth and the waving glistening leaves leave me at the gates of childhood. The yarn of childhood reminiscences then unfolds itself as I look through the windows of past. Playing football with my brother under the rain, taking a dip in the pond by the house, waiting for the school to flood and the announcement of a day’s holiday….I feel happy to have lived those moments. I feel fortunate to have been a part of nature’s bounty and beauty. Sitting by the window and watching memories unroll. The bliss of nostalgia.

The pain sets in as the rain dies down. The dismay at my inability to recreate those moments in reality. The dismay that life shall continue as it is. My refuge of memories cast away.

I am happy to surrender my emotions over to nature. Whom else can you? The surrender, devoid of anger and vengeance.  The surrender is a reminder of my place in the grand scheme of things. It sows the seeds of humility and gratitude. Humility, which I must subject myself to, shall allow me to behold the beauty of the natural around me.

Almighty Google-The Smartest Of All

I still remember myself innocently typing “Who is the Tree man of India?” into the Google search engine in response to a questionnaire handed out at school. Like many of my time, I too have become the smart teen who asks from the Smartest himself.

The productivity and widespread publicity of Internet created a wave of delight and relief for millions of school-going children. Where our parents would bend over thick encyclopaedias in the stuffy library, we had Google at our disposal. Wikipedia became my best friend during my homework hour.

My brother, who had been studying in Singapore at that time, brought the winds of modern technology to our house. I was chided for not using the internet ‘sufficiently’. I strived harder and dug deeper. To be able to find something on Google all by yourself had become ‘trendy’ at school.

As I came to high school, I missed my virtual friend. With no social sciences and core sciences being the sole subjects, I felt nostalgic on remembering the good old easy times. With complex algebra and Euler’s postulates surrounding me, I was already messed up enough to venture into deeper depths. Google could not solve the complex questions for me. Those two years were a hell of a ride.

College became the eye opener for me. We were drummed by our seniors from the very first day “Internet is your best friend here”. My mistake was that I felt I had extracted all I could from Google. But, lo and behold, I saw my fellow peers deftly tapping “College life learning” into Google, through the calculus class, just a week into college. They had taken their seniors’ advice all too seriously. Googling life’s complexities became the new cool. I too joined this festival of Googling. I too learned the feted skill of Googling to keep up. You guessed it. I even tried searching ‘Life keeping up’.

Now that I have mastered this skill too I intend to move on. But no. This time, I won’t google ‘ambitions college life’. I have reached tipping point and I am fortunate enough to halt my race with the world.

It is worth pondering over that in an age where everyone wishes to be self-reliant and independent, one likes doing work solo. For solo work carries more recognition. This is one step towards compartmentalization and retreating into the shell of greed.

Our interaction with the world has become minimal and fellow humans have simply been reduced to tools for access to fun and happiness. We think twice before asking any question. What if my question is trivial? We are told to be independent but also work smartly. These two ideas are notoriously at odds with one another. I won’t ask the guy next room (problem solved in 2 minutes) but search for the needle in the haystack on Google to be independent (problem solved in 30 minutes). In an attempt to produce a know-it-all image we have shirked human feelings.

The surreal beauty of an intellectual discussion has been lost. Emotions are slashed out as detractors from truth. We fail to understand our elders’ struggles for we have not heard them. How can we feel the bitterness of war raging in the eyes of the stoic survivor? How can we learn from the experiences of our parents expressed through the highs and lows of their voice? We cannot. The solution is not Herculean. We need only to have patience to listen. The emotion ensconced in truth completes the solution.

Let us not become repositories of information. Let us shower the respect Google deserves and leave it at that. There is no harm in acknowledging Google as the GOAT in IQ and the WOAT in EQ (for those unaware of GOAT/WOAT –you can either discuss it over lunch or as always; Google it.)

My Reflections on Unbroken

Wise people say “Don’t make promises that you can’t keep “, but perhaps the very purpose of promises lies in the will to fulfil them.

Seeing myself lose gratitude for the life I was living, I decided to pick up a book which could sprout in me the feeling of being fortunate. Thanks to my trusted gauge Goodreads, I picked up Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand as my guide.

The book describes the story of former Olympic runner Louis “Louie” Zamperini and his experiences during WW2 .The initial part of the book illustrates a restless, relentless troublemaker Louie. He has a knack for getting into trouble and the gift to let himself free from any situation. Due to his headstrong brother, he lets go of his insincerity and enters professional running. The story of a Zamperini’s rise to an Olympic runner hooks one to the book. The story itself along with the crisp focus and description of the events makes his early life a thrilling and an inspiring read.

The second part describes his time as a commander in the US Air Force. The description of the wartime life of a soldier is poles apart from that by Joseph Heller in Catch 22 which sublimely presents the imagery with an undercurrent of satire and humour. Hillenbrand presents an ominous setting to the dangers to which men put their lives forward to on each mission. The army’s allegiance to the nation and men is not exaggerated. Zamperini’s refusal to announce Japanese propaganda on radio under life-threatening conditions is a testament to this fact. By not revealing Mac’s weakness for food on their first night on the raft to the public, both Louie and Captain Phillips set a precedent for camaraderie and pay homage to Mac without whom survival would have been improbable.

After some successful missions, Louie finds himself in the Green Hornet which crashes into the Pacific during a search mission. Louie, Phil and Mac survive. Hope was all that they had in the ocean. Strength of mind over body drives Louie and Phil to spare no effort in devising ways to stay alive. Mac’s continually depressive thoughts could have been infectious but the pilot and the bombardier safeguard their minds from the abyss of negativity through mental creations.

Wise people say “Don’t make promises that you can’t keep “, but perhaps the very purpose of promises lies in the will to fulfil them. One cannot fail to notice that it was his ‘promise’ to his fiancée Cecy of marrying her after the war that drove Phil through such hardships.

The two men knew what fate held for them when they were found. I would not dwell on the mistreatment and the inhumane attitude of the Japanese guards towards POW’s. My mind could only conjure a blurry image of the atrocities committed, something I shall not be and would never wish to comprehend.

As I read through Louie’s experiences at various POW camps, my mind reeled back to his circumstances on the raft. Getting out of there, alone had been a harrowing experience. Did not experiencing further hardships at the hands of ‘The Bird’ go beyond the realm of human strength to endure such torture and condemnation? Although, both Louie and Phil being alive after World War 2 was fortunate coincidence, they both had gone through utter hopelessness and despair on the raft. I believe the ordeal was the grinding stone for their mental strength. They pushed through and came off even tougher rather than depleted. Louie is, too, quoted in the book saying that time in the ocean gave him mental space that he had never been given before. Phil believed that they wouldn’t last longer than the record of 23 days. They survived 47 days. It is no doubt that their days were doubled as each one had a companion to confide his feelings in.

After returning from war, Louie faces the horrifying nightmares of his torture. The end of his running career due to a broken ankle put out the sun to which Louie would rise to after the storm of dark dreams. With nothing to cling onto, he ends up on wild drinking sprees .He retreats into the selfish cocoon of curing himself of the demon, heedless to the lives around him.

Had he not injured his ankle, he probably would have even gone into professional running and represented America post war. But the question remains: How much would he have recovered from the horrors of war?

He was shaken up through Billy Graham’s preaching when he realized that he was not being a good man in society.His conversion to evangelical Christianity was not meant to serve himself but others. That perhaps is the essence of prayer. One does not take up prayer to only alleviate one’s own suffering, but to be the support in his neighbors’ trials and tribulations.

Plucking the life out of ‘The Bird’ would never have given him the redemption he hoped for. His visit to the prison guards in Sugamo served as the beacon of redemption during times of deep distrust and hatred. The unresentful interview of Watanabe shows us how he had still not given up the war inside him. Louie served as the living example of ‘Forgiveness rises above revenge’. Reading Louie’s story made me believe that perhaps the only true way to live happily is by being grateful. His name is secured in the annals of American athletics but the World shall look up to him as an epitome of forgiveness and redemption.

Perfection to the World

Shakespeare once said :” The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Realizing our imperfection leads us to the path to perfection.

History is replete with people who made their imperfection an asset to their lives.They had the courage and resolve to mould their imperfect lives into ‘extraordinary’ lives.Helen Keller, with no ‘natural’ means of communication, became the symbol of social activism.Franklin Roosevelt was a cripple. Oprah Winfrey had the darkest of childhoods.

A beautiful thought anyone can relate to :’Don’t curse yourselves for you are the creation of God. With each negative thought ,you insult God.’ The vision to see our gifts lies in being grateful to the imperfections bestowed onto us.The concept of God itself is an attempt by mankind to accept the imperfections of nature which has puzzled humankind since time immemorial.

I strongly believe in the words of the great Indian reformist Swami Vivekananda :’In a day when you don’t come across any problems,you can be sure that you are travelling on the wrong path’. The beauty of nature and fate itself lies in the imperfections abounding it.

The countless number of racism cases and hate attacks around the world is an outright negation of us accepting imperfection in fellow humans.It again is a case of blatant disrespect to the laws of nature to which we submit ourselves every day. What assurance do we have of us being the same ‘perfect’ individual tomorrow, we assume ourselves to be today?

Science exemplifies the art of reaching perfection though imperfection. The basic premise of science resides in discovering the fallacies which underlies the existing theory. With recurring cases of the speed of light barrier being broken in laboratory physics, Einstein’s laws of physics, deemed priceless by the physics community since its inception, is now under the scanner and may be classified ‘invalid’. The physics community is not let down by this discovery but considers it to be the next big thing in this field.

The quote from F. Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby highlights the importance of accepting the imperfections each person harbors. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” We need not be at the fore of social upheaval to bring about change. It is only by reminding ourselves of the perfections we are already endowed with and accepting the imperfections,can we contribute to making the world a better place.