Monday, November 18, 2019

Grief




Sincere grief is a strange emotion. It is a journey and a destination at the same time. It blocks everything till you are not able to come to terms with the cause of the grief.

I write a lot. I blog about current affairs, books, movies and express myself in public forums. I can speak in a crowd, I can speak to a crowd (there's a difference mind you) and I am articulate enough to hold my own in an exchange of ideas. But the one incident which I found myself unable to express myself about or to even think about was my grandfather's death two years ago. Mysteriously, when I tried to open my mind to even myself; when I tried to communicate about this loss to even myself - I found I was "tongue-tied" as the expression were. No tears, just an inexplicable ball in my gut. I didn't talk about his death, I didn't discuss it with friends or family and I couldn't bear the thought of publicly acknowledging the event itself. I carried on as if nothing had happened. I saw social media posts from my family members a few days after ajoba passed away and the foremost emotion in my mind was anger. How could they publicly express such a pure emotion? I felt as if they had dirtied that pure emotion by displaying it in public. 

Some time ago my YouTube feed popped up the RSS theme song. I was sitting idle watching nonsense. I clicked on it. The most popular version begins in a sonorous voice and has the feel of a solemn chant . . "नमस्ते सदा वत्सले मातृभूमे . . . ". 

And the whole thing came crashing down. My brain was literally overloaded with images and memories till I couldn't handle the sudden influx. Images of my last conversation with ajoba, images of him teaching me math, images of him standing before a chair with his crutch, images of his powerful forearm gripping his walker, images of us. Memories, memories, memories. Through all my rebellious teens, he always believed in me and stood by me. He might have had his flaws and his fallacies, but through all the ups and downs, he was always in my corner. He passed away one day after I reached a new work assignment in Poland. I had told him that I would return in a month and that we would catch up after I got back. I never got that chance. 

Maybe that anger of unfinished business blocked my thoughts. Maybe my own habit of not expressing my emotions enough blocked my own understanding of my grief. Maybe if I HAD expressed my emotions enough when he was alive would have helped me come to terms with his loss when  he passed away. Whatever it was, it took two years for me begin to understand this and to come to terms with his loss. Today I am not angry at my relatives for posting about his passing on social media. Today I realize that I cannot undo what has happened in the past, but I can make changes for the future. Today I hope that even if I am not good at expressing my emotions, the people around me know how much I care for them. That I might not say it or express it loudly and in public, but I will always be in their corner, just like ajoba was always in mine. 

RIP ajoba.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Indosphere and Greater India




So marvelous is the human brain. It has an infinite capacity for curiosity and assimilation of information. One topic leads to another, one bit of information opens a door into a maze of more information. In such a wondrous rabbit-hole like fashion; I stumbled onto the word "Indosphere" and brought to mind Atalji's famous poem titled "स्वतंत्रता दिवस की पुकार". 

Sitting alone at home after a long day at work, I was watching the series "Fightworld" on Netflix. Episode 3 is about the Burmese martial art of Lethwei. It is a unique martial art in the sense it allows the use of headbutts. In most martial arts, headbutting will get you deducted points at best and disqualified at worst. It is a brutal martial art to boot; fighters are mostly bare-knuckled with only a light gauze padding on their hands. Its fascinating insights aside, I casually checked out the wikipedia page of "Lethwei" and stumbled onto the fact that it is culturally linked to other martial arts throughout Southeast Asia and has particularly close links to "मुष्टि युद्ध" in India. 

Just like martial arts, languages too have deep connections and this natural progression of web searches led me to the word "indosphere" coined by the linquist James Matisoff to denote the areas of Indian influence in linguistic development/evolution of Southeast Asia. From here to the wider scope of India's cultural influence was but a step. And what a step! From the writings of RC Mazumdar to Sylvain Levi; there is a substantial body of work which explores the deep cultural influence that India has had on Southeast Asia. Since 130 - 300 CE, trade proved the catalyst for spreading Indian influence across the region. From the Salakanagara kingdom founded in 150 CE to the Khmer kingdom and later the Ceylon kingdom right into the middle of the 13th century.  A trail of rich cultural influence that has left a vast trail across the pages of history and continues to manifest itself in small ways even today. 

In the 21st century this has become even more relevant. As an answer to the "sinosphere", Greater India is emerging as a counter-weight. In response to the CPEC, India's "necklace of diamonds" are encircling China with an equally impressive string of collaborations and partnerships. Right from India being acknowledged as a stakeholder in Aghanistan to Modi's personal chemistry with Shinzo Abe, Indian influence in world polity is again on the upswing. From Chabahar to Colombo, India is partnering with its neighbors to achieve a higher level of synergy and achieve mutual goals. 

This brought me to an inspiring poem by Atalji about "United India" or "अखंड भारत". The climactic verse of which runs as follows - 

दिन दूर नहीं खंडित भारत को पुनः अखंड बनाएँगे।
गिलगित से गारो पर्वत तक आजादी पर्व मनाएँगे॥
उस स्वर्ण दिवस के लिए आज से कमर कसें बलिदान करें।
जो पाया उसमें खो न जाएँ, जो खोया उसका ध्यान करें॥

While Atalji only spoke about an indivisible India and limited his idea to a more inward-facing perspective; today's India has an outward-facing outreach. We are propounding the message of "वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम्" or "the world is one family". Global in scope and vast in its appeal. The "Indosphere" of the 21st century is inherently relevant and scalable. I am looking forward to our country reaching ever greater heights on the global stage with this message of collaboration amidst diversity.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Review: The Brain that Changes Itself

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain ScienceThe Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very interesting book. The examples that Dr Doidge has given are out there in the open domain for all to see. Very inspiring and thought-provoking. I was particularly fascinated by the story of Cheryl Schiltz whose brain learnt to use the tongue for balance instead of her inner ear even after her "prosthetic" device was removed. However, this opens up quite a field of discussions. I mean assuming neuroplasticity to be a valid phenomenon, can a left-handed person become right-handed or vice versa? Can a mental form of constraint-induced therapy switch sexual orientation? Can people on the spectrum learn the "empathy" factor missing in their mental makeup and become neurotypicals? Can sociopaths learn to perceive other people's emotions? I bet these questions are just the tip of the iceberg!

We can obviously see through the numerous examples given that the brain does have a remarkable capacity for rewiring itself and adapting it's structure. But based on this very hypothesis, there's a ton of quackery out there too. What if this opens the floodgates for every quack, con, mystic or guru to shove their s**t down the gullible throats of innocent people under the huge umbrella of "neuroplasticity"?

And even more dangerous; what stops institutions from using techniques outlined by neuroplasticists as some form of mandated conditioning for neurodiverse populations to "turn" them into neurotypicals? The entire spectrum of genetically wired anomalies of the brain can be brought under the ambit of mandatory conditioning for "straightening them out".

A prickly topic indeed. The science may be solid, but I doubt we are mature enough yet to understand it's implications.


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Monday, March 11, 2019

Review: Bajirao - The Warrior Peshwa


Baji Rao: The Warrior PeshwaBaji Rao: The Warrior Peshwa by Jaiwant E Paul
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just like Bajirao overshadowed his younger brother throughout his life; geopolitical events in Maharashtra have relegated Bajirao to the sidelines of history. Maharashtra is Shivaji and our vision often ends there. Sad but true. Adding to the problem is Bollywood. With the romantic angle of Bajirao's life often hyper-emphasized and nowhere more so in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's extravagant epic "Bajirao Mastani"; we have boxed Bajirao the personality. We forget that he was a military general par excellence and that he never lost a battle. We forget that he was an unorthodox progressive for his age and that he ate meat and drank mead in an environment that was oppressively conservative. He preferred the company of his soldiers than the rich confines of the palace and we've forgotten that Bajirao was much more than his love affair with Mastani.

With detailed evidences, citations and corroborated events in history; Jaiwant E Paul tries to correct this gross injustice. The title itself moves away from the usual hoopla about Bajirao's love life. From his conquest of the central plains to his sudden attack on Delhi, Jaiwant E Paul has chronicled the life of a military tactician par excellence. A very interesting read that gives perspective to the Peshwa ascendancy before its eventual decline into extravagance and debauchery. One wonders what would have happened had "brahminical patriarchy" been more liberal and allowed an inter-caste marriage and what would have happened if Bajirao had lived another decade....

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A belated post which I had saved in my drafts. Publishing this after a delay of around 6 months. Consider this as something which should have published in August 2018

According to wikipedia - 
A motor reflex, or reflex action, is an involuntary and nearly instantaneous movement in response to a stimulus. A reflex is made possible by neural pathways called reflex arcs which can act on an impulse before that impulse reaches the brain. 
Me and the wife always used to fight over the remote in our quaint little place in Airoli, Navi Mumbai. Whether it be the television remote or the air conditioning, it was always diametrically opposite views. As far as the air conditioning goes, I like it pleasantly chilly; she likes it warm. It was therefore always a standoff. I liked 21 degrees centigrade, she preferred 25. 4 degrees can make all the difference when it comes to a bedroom and a sauna. Like in all marriages, we had to compromise. We would switch on the AC AND the ceiling fan with a timer. 21 degrees with a fan switched on for 30 minutes would give enough wind-chill to sustain us for the next few hours of a movie or a nap. We had the same air conditioner installed in the bedroom as well as our "den". And we'd use the same protocol in both rooms. It was our own brand of weird and crazy. But this arrangement gave me the habit of always switching on the timer as soon as I switched on the AC. It became a reflex. If i pressed the power switch of my AC on, my thumb would immediately move over to the timer which was exactly below the power button. 

For the past few weeks I am staying in a hotel room. Heck, the past couple of years have been uncertain and volatile. I've been travelling hither and tither. New assignments, new people, new challenges. I've wrapped up my affairs in Mumbai, moved to Pune . . been on business travel periodically. Been living out of a suitcase. This whole "phase" was crystallized in my mind and the impact of it all came crashing down on me in one simple reflex motion - the AC remote in my hotel room. I returned today evening to the hotel room in question, dumped the week's supplies onto the table and crashed onto the sofa in front of the TV; much like I was wont to do at home in Airoli. I grabbed the air conditioner's remote, switched it on and my thumb automatically moved down to find the timer. And then it came crashing down. I was no longer in my lazy-boy and my den. Or my bed. The Airoli chapter had closed. 

One simple reflex action. That's all it took for memories to come crashing down on me like the flood waters out of a dam. The brain is such a funny thing. I had nothing on my mind just five minutes before I took the remote into my hand. And just five minutes after; I was on a roller-coaster ride down memory lane. The fights and the hugs, the jabs and the kisses. The evenings spent wandering around the suburbs, the late nights spent working, the movies in our den where we'd installed two insanely expensive recliners in front of our large-screen TV, the small nook of our lives that we created like two birds building a nest . . it all came crashing down on me because of one reflex motion. 










Today I am on the cusp of a new assignment, a new city and a new country where I wait for my wife to join me so we can settle down and build another nest. I look forward to creating similarly pleasant and everlasting memories in this new place. But I shall always look back on yet another Mumbai chapter of my life with fondness and nostalgia. This city has given me life-long friends, memories to cherish and has nurtured me to become the man I presently am. Invisibly and in the shadows, she shall continue to guide me with a steady hand in the future as well. As the cliched saying goes; you can take a person out of Mumbai, but you can't take Mumbai out of a person. But most of all, I shall cherish my small apartment and the quaint corner we built. We created the decor, we chose the furniture ourselves; bit by bit, rupee by rupee. We set it up with our own hands. We fought and we cried there. We lived, loved and laughed there. We returned there each evening to lick our wounds and to rally for the next day. We sallied forth on our weekend excursions from there. It was our base, our lauch-pad. We called it home. We thank Mumbai for this home and for some of the memorable moments of our lives.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Review: The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew

The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew by Lee Kuan Yew
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fascinating story. I know there are two schools of thought about Lee Kuan Yew and I know the issue is too complex to be answered so simply. But what immediately struck me is that the story of the Singaore riots is uncannily like the story of Godhra. Certain parties wanted to create a communal rift between Malay Muslims and the Chinese and they used the media to malign Lee and take advantage of said rift for ulterior motives. Very similar to what happened in Gujarat when certain elements used the media to create the perception of Modi being a despot and a dictator. Modi was blamed for 2002 and Lee was blamed for the 1964 riots. Replace the UNMO/Malaysia with the Congress, PAP/Lee with BJP/Modi, Utusan Melayu with NDTV and you have basically the same plot.

But putting the India perspective aside, the book is a fascinating insight into how Singapore was formed despite the Brits not wanting it to be formed, the Malays deep hostility towards Singapore, presence of Communists and the nefarious pressure of Sukarno. Say what you will about Lee, the small nation is now considered one of the most developed in the world. Given it's turbulent history and it's unfortunate geopolitical situation, that's quite an achievement.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Review: A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A gripping tale. First off, for all the criticism that he's getting; Comey's physical description of Trump is worth less than a page out of 293 pages. If one is so offended by it, one can ignore it. Trump himself is mentioned only after Chapter 12. No doubt he might be the reason Comey wrote the book, but it's a story worth hearing and Comey sets the stage to show that his stand with Trump is not new for him and that he engaged in similar tussles with previous presidents (albeit on a whole other level)

Also, I didn't see the book as Comey tooting his own horn. I saw the narrative as a man trying to remember leaders in his life and narrate what he's learnt from them. He doesn't come off as high-handed either. His story is well told, and makes for interesting reading not just for Americans but for anybody. As for Trump, I'm not American and so it's not my place to comment on American politics.

Coming to leadership lessons; Comey's not saying anything new. Ethical leaders need to respect individual dignity, ethical leaders teach by setting examples, ethical leaders give space to learn by allowing mistakes and so on and so forth. But the difference is that Comey talks about these "fundas" through real-life scenarios. You see the practical impacts of things done right and things done wrong. And you can relate to all the incidents. Because all of us in our careers have worked with such leaders. We've come across good leaders and we've come across bad leaders. Just like Comey. We've made mistakes and learnt from them because good leaders have protected us but taught us; and we've been bullied by bad leaders who've second-guessed and under-cut us. And that's what makes this book such a good read. As a normal guy trying to do the right thing, you can relate to Comey's experiences.

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