Archive for November, 2011

Don’t fly too high

You flew the nest at an early age,
Insistent and in a terrible rage,
We listened, my child, as we have always done,
Hoping that your happiness would come.

You have made your own nest my dear,
But have left us in a state of fear,
For the child we once cared for,
Seeks our affection no more.

You have turned your back on us so fast,
Leaving us in mid-air with nothing to grasp,
Lost and forlorn, we feel betrayed
By the Russian roulette that life has played.

Have we metamorphosed overnight?
Turned into beasts with overpowering might?
I think not, my child, we are just the same,
Maybe this is all life’s game.

My child, don’t fly too high,
After all the sun is in the sky,
It may burn your wings beyond repair,
And leave you in a state of disrepair.

We pray your cup will overflow
With happiness and a whole lot more.
Such tranquility is beyond our scope,
Yet in our heart remains a spark of hope.

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Relative value for money

At times all it takes is for a small incident to make a theoretical principle both more meaningful and memorable. While the concept of relative value for money was taught to us by an erudite economics professor in the confines of a classroom, the richness of this principle was actually brought home to me by an encounter with a rickshaw puller.
As we know ‘value’ is how much a desired object or condition is worth relative to other objects or conditions (wikipedia), and relative value of money depends on where and when you are spending that money. So Rs 500 would go further in a small town like Patna, compared to a metropolitan city like Mumbai.
On a visit to pay homage to Lord Krishna at Jagnnath temple nestled in the town of Puri, Orissa, the taxi driver had warned me, “Madam be careful. The priests will surround you like vultures, all after your money.”
So I went into the temple precinct with some amount of hesitation and trepidation, and spent much of my energy in simultaneously clutching my purse and shooing away the priests. It could hardly be described as an ethereal experience. In fact it was quite a relief for me to buy the Prasad (holy offering) and make a hasty retreat.
I beckoned a rickshaw puller to take me to the taxi stand and after some negotiations we settled for Rs 40 for this service. As soon as I reached the taxi stand I told him to wait as I searched for my taxi amongst the hundreds lined up in the car park. When I returned to pay the richshaw puller I couldn’t find him anywhere and nor could I trace the packet of Prasad that I had asked him to safeguard. So much for trust.
Then I did some calculations. Obviously the rickshaw puller had figured out that he would be better off by stealing the Prasad which was worth Rs 60 rather than wait to be paid Rs 40 by me. It had never occurred to me that he would steal the Prasad because in Delhi Rs 20 is really of no real value (one could buy a cold drink with this sum), whereas in the poverty-stricken city of Puri this so-called meager amount had enough value for the chap to risk theft.
Anyway, this story has a happy ending. Apart from it making the principle of the relative value of money more meaningful for me, I did return to Jagannath temple a few months later, and this time I made sure that I left the temple precincts clutching both my purse and the Prasad!

Feelings …

Someone told me my feelings were wrong,

That I ought to grow up and move on.

But I am not a computer you see, or a light switch for you to turn off when free.

 I am me; living, breathing me, full of life’s vitality.

 The clock continues to play her song,

 But my feelings remain, even years on.

I do not choose to follow my heart.

Rather it is the heart that chooses …

I know he will never be with me, never caress my hair nor touch my skin,

never share his thoughts as he once did.

But shhhh!

Don’t tell that to my heart.

I may never be free from this sweet captivity,

from this constant state of uncertainty.

All I know is I am not a switch you see.

I am living, breathing me.

Are extrinsic rewards the ultimate motivator?

When our son utters his very first words we shower him with kisses, or when our daughter takes her first few wobbly steps we sweep her in our arms and hug her. Life is all about punishment and rewards. We know that even animals comprehend this simple truth, aka Pavlov’s theory.

Management schools teach the same dualism: lead a team successfully to achieve the company goal and you will be rewarded with a promotion and an increment, or else you will be doomed to a position of insignificance.

How do we reconcile this apparent truism of life with the Bhagawad Gita’s doctrine on karma yoga, in which the karma yogi is meant to achieve spiritualism by being duty-oriented, indifferent to rewards and by showing equanimity to all people? Duty orientation is understandable and to some extent attainable. But how do we achieve a state in which we are indifferent to rewards when we are conditioned from an early age that achievements will be rewarded and failures will be punished?

While I am still grappling with these questions, I did some across a karma yogi recently. Someone who believes in working meticulously in the corporate environment that he is in, silently, without bragging of his own competencies, and someone who after bagging a promotion, did not trip over himself to immediately share this good news with either family or colleagues. He just took it in his stride. It was as if he was unmotivated by the results of his actions, but rather that the work he was doing was a reward in itself. To him it was the journey and not the destination that was the ultimate. What an eye-opener this was for me.

As for showing equanimity to all people, I have found this rare trait in my father-in law. He treats everyone with the same love and respect, even those who have cheated him in life. When I ask him, “Why so?” he replies, “Who am I to punish them? That is for God to do.”

Working hard, but not being driven by the results, and also treating everyone around you with the same amount of love and respect – phew! That’s a tall order, but not totally unachievable!

Why are we Indians so oblivious to etiquette?

 I recall cringing as a child on a flight from London to Delhi, when a fellow Indian traveler decided to change his attire from trousers to a dhoti right in the middle of the aisle. Needless to say a harried air hostess ushered him rather rapidly towards the lavatory. This passenger was blissfully unaware that he was the cynosure of all eyes.

Take a more recent case of Cavalleria Rusticana, an opera in one act from Italy, which was performed last week in India for the first time at Siri Fort auditorium, New Delhi (this was a collaboration of the Embassy of Italy, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and The Delhi International Arts Festival).

Agreed that even I was unaware of the finer nuances of the no-applause rule, in which the audience at an opera is not meant to applaud until the end of the final movement, and had to be informed of this rule by my friend who has more experience of attending operas than me. But again I cringed when I saw no less than the chief guest Delhi Lt Governor Tejinder Khanna and his entourage making an exit after about 40 minutes of the show. It was not the exit itself, but the way in which this was executed that was painfully embarrassing. The dignitaries climbed the stage and made an exit through the wings, as the audience and the performers looked on gobsmacked.

And here is yet another example of ‘perfect’ manners. Picture a panel discussion of luminaries in front of a select audience. While a noted academician was in the midst of a well prepared speech on feminist knowledge, an elderly couple decided that they had to leave the venue. They shuffled up to the stage to pay their respects to the main protagonist of the evening, and then with considerable difficulty made their way to the exit through the crammed hall, distracting the audience in the process. The speaker, luckily, managed to remain composed and finished her talk seamlessly, in spite of the commotion.

In this day and age of globalization and internationalization, we Indians need to learn to mind our Ps and Qs at a rapid pace. How much longer can we be oblivious to the social embarrassments that we at times unwittingly cause?

Coping with a toxic relationship

I see many of my friends, fast approaching middle age, who are clutching onto a marriage that has been dead and buried for some time. There could be several reasons for this, including the fear of a backlash from the in-laws and one’s own family members too. Being a collective society, in India couples don’t just part ways with their life partner, but in the process also have to lose a substantial portion family, friends and societal respect too. And not everyone has the strength to go through such a loss. It is interesting to observe the coping strategies that individuals come up with when caught in the jaws of a toxic relationship. One ‘strategy’ is pure denial. I know of one lady who refuses to admit there is anything wrong in her marriage and is blind to the chasm that has developed between her and her husband. Someone else I know copes by hurling himself headlong into his work, almost 24 x 7, which means he ends up having to spend very little time with the wife that he does not really want to be with. Others turn to hedonism, and secretly have several affairs, so as to “compensate” themselves for having to go through a life of personal misery. The most effective strategy came from one of my maids, who has used time management as an instrument against a violent husband. She managed to gain employment as a cleaning lady in houses at the exact time her husband was at home, that is, in the mornings and evenings. And when he goes off to work in the daytime, she rushes back home to look after the kids. She tells me the beatings have subsided largely because they are hardly together under the same roof, and also because of the fact that she now has her own income too. So rather than indulging in any form of escapism, she took the bull by the horns and came up with a workable solution to coping with a toxic relationship!