Monday, February 15, 2016

Da Da Da

What makes us human? I believe that it is not just our intellect but our passion that has made us a successful species on this planet. Our passion for things, such has exploration, faith and knowledge, have set us apart and shaped our history. We are who we are because of the various things that invoke our passion. Unlike our other animal counterparts, we humans are passionate about a wide range of things. The depth of our passions and our ability to follow those passions to the ends of the earth, live and die by those passions and even kill for it if we have to.

While passion is great and we are all encouraged to show more of it by our mentors and teachers, what really lifts us to the next level, is our ability to show restraint in that passion. Like girdled horses... we have the ability to check, balance and channelize our passions. Passions that are like fire. It is from the day that we discovered 'fire' that humankind has been on the fast track of evolution. Like fire, which is such a powerful tool when used in a controlled fashion; and a destructive force when left uncontrolled, our passion is our greatest strength ONLY when we are able to show moderation and restraint with it.

A story from the Upanishands, talks about how the Devas (demi-gods), Manushas (common people) and Asuras (demonic warlords), went to the Prajapathi (leader of all beings) and asked him for advice on how they can improve their lives. Prajapathi simply said, "Da Da Da". The Devas heard "Da" as "Dhamyata". Manushas heard "Da" as "Datta" and the Asuras heard "Da" as "Dayatvam". Dhamyata is restraint. Datta is charity. Dayatvam is compassion. Restraint, Charity and Compassion. The essence of this story is that depending on the type of existence that one is in, i.e., demi-god, commoner or warlord, the trait that can emancipate us and improve our lives is slightly different. 

Though the references to demi-gods, commoners and demonic warlords may sound mythical, it is only a reference to our existential state. To contemporise the idea, I am going to take some liberties. If we have a decent bank balance, a reliable income stream, no worries about where the next meal is coming from and indiscriminately wave a plastic card around, we are in the demi-god category. We struggle to even perceive the problem that grips our throats - "problem of plenty". If we live the life of a commoner, struggling to make ends meet, our challenge is quite obvious - "survival". If we are warlords who have power to dispense at will (i.e., corporate, political or social), we again struggle to perceive our problem - "corruption". We fall into one or more of these categories of existence.

In today's modern world, especially in the western and urban societies, where there are plenty of resources, comforts and wealth to lead comfortable lives, the majority of us live the lives of demi-gods. Moderation and restraint is the trait that we need to hone in to help us improve our lives. It is pragmatic to say that the problems in the western world are miniscule compared to the problems in the less developed parts of the world. However, it will be a fallacy and a catastrophic mistake to conclude, the western world has nothing to worry about and has reached the height of emancipation.

The problem of plenty is what is gripping the modern world and most people do not even perceive the problem. We live in an age of plenty, which is unprecedented in our recorded history. The richest human beings were still in the 'survival' mode until the late 20th century. Today, we take survival for granted. We are reckless about things that the wealthiest of our ancestors found precious and rare. We use toilet paper, which is of better quality than what our ancestors wrote on and eat out of season fruits all round the year. We have no idea of what it is to not have what we expect to have. The bottom line is money. If you throw money you can get anything. That's the world we know. Each one of the major problems that we face, from our economy and global warming down to burgeoning waistlines and health issues, can be linked to having "plenty" and not being able to shown enough restraint.

As one 'stop smoking' ad puts it - 'Your will power is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets'. If we can all show some restraint, when we shop, when we eat, when we argue, when we form opinions, when we know someone is so obviously wrong, when someone has wronged us, when someone has wronged someone else, when we are hungry, when we are angry, when we are happy, when we are sad.... It can help. Us and everyone else.

Finally, moderation is a counterbalance for passion. It is not the same as inaction, apathy or lack of conviction. In fact taking action, however misguided or self centered it may be, is better than inaction. If we can take action dispassionately, i.e., remove the passion but do the deed just as well, that's when we are able to achieve Damyata. The quality that lifts us from the state of demi gods to true godliness.

Why I hate the term "third world"?

I know that hate is a strong word. However, that is the best word to describe what I feel when I hear the term "third world". It feels like a racial slur to my ears. It sends spiders crawling up my spine every time I hear it.
The three worlds
Many people who use the term, do not even know what it is supposed to mean.  The term originated from the cold war era, when the West was called the first world, the communist bloc was the second and the countries that remained neutral and did not align with either side was referred to as the third world.

Most people that use the term today have no idea about the history of the term. In their mind, the term represents a metaphor for a poverty stricken, disease ridden, unhygienic, under developed parts of the world, which do not have the "amenities" that they take for granted in their world. It is an easy way to paint a picture of all those unpleasant things that you don't want to mention but you want other people to understand.

Inherently, to the people that don't know the history of the term, the term means under development and something that is not just different but beneath what they expect to be the "standard" for living. They do not mean it as insult but they do wish that the 'third' world and all the people who live there would be better off if they lived in the 'first' world, like them.

I grew up in India and I have never heard the term being used when I was there. I have read about it in history books. I have heard the more politically correct term 'developing world' but the terms  'underdeveloped world' or 'third world' was strictly out of the vocabulary.

Since I have moved out of India, I hear the word being used more often. I have had people (in a very nice way) ask me how I feel having left a third world country behind (implying, how I am enjoying the privileges of the first world). Well, what do I say? India is the 'first' world that I knew. I enjoyed every moment of my life there, as I enjoy my life now. It was very different but definitely wasn't the dismal 'third' world that people imagine. It was a place full of hope, charm and life. The sights and sounds that come to my mind when I think of my 'first' world are very different to what someone who sees it as a 'third' world might perceive. I don't see slums, hear car horns and smell sewers. My 'first' world has the tallest mountains in the world and the lushest green paddy fields that feed over a billion people. I hear the sophistication of Carnatic music battling with the catchy beats of movie music for my ear space. I smell the bats that have lived for centuries in ancient granite temples and the fragrance of the ghee that my grandmother pours into the sweets that she makes with love. It's all in the perspective. How do I explain what might take a million words to explain to someone who has a pretty clear idea of what it is that they see when they say 'third world'?

Development is a matter of perspective. What the third world lacks in terms of amenities, it make sup for in history, culture, values, tradition and spirit. To all my western friends I say humbly, please leave that word out of your vocabulary. It hurts me to know that you think that the world that has made me the person I am today (my pseudo mother so to speak) is beneath some arbitrary standard set by the West.

The Fortunate Few

I really enjoyed this talk by Anand Giridharadas on TED. Excellent delivery of a heart wrenching story. The message is being pitched to an American (i.e. US) audience. However, if we can look past the packaging, the message itself is very real and the presentation is flawless. The undercurrent of emotion throughout this talks is one of pride. Pride that good guys can survive and win in their own way. There is sincerity in the message that the good guys who have the time to sit back and think should reflect on the fact that they have been very very fortunate.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Do you have enemies?

A friend happened to mention to me about what she was reading in the book ‘Art of Happiness’ by the Dalai Lama. She mentioned how he asks us to treat enemies as people that have a purpose in our lives. They challenge us and through those challenges, we can make better people of ourselves. I happen to read somewhere else that Winston Churchill had once said – “If you have made enemies, that’s great because it means you have stood up for something in your life”. And Franklin Roosevelt said, “Judge me by the enemies I have made.” The Dalai Lama himself has many powerful enemies, who have made him the international figure that he is. If not for them, he would have been a humble monk who would have lived in oblivion in a far away land that is called the ‘Roof of the World’.

Can we therefore say Success = function of (enemies)?  It sounds weird to recommend to anyone, especially in today’s world that is filled with animosity and hatred to ‘Go and make some enemies’. Just doesn’t sound right. Does that mean this equation could work just for great people like the Dalai Lama, Churchill or Roosevelt and not to mere mortals like the rest of us? That doesn’t sound right either. There is no reason any one of us cannot be great.

I think the answer may lie in the way we define enemies. ‘Enemies’ historically has been a term used to refer to people who have fought on the other side in a war. Another human being just like ourselves but standing up for the ‘other side’. If we leave alone the objectives of the ‘other side’. The objective of the enemy himself was to kill us and help his side win. They weren’t ‘evil’ in any other way, except for wanting to kill us! Often soldiers found that their enemies were going through the same challenges as them and the stories were similar on both sides. In a time and age when wars are no longer fought against a designated enemy but against a shadowy figure that we aren’t even sure is alive or dead or hiding in some mountain cave?! We have lost the true meaning of what an enemy represented. The life that the enemy wished to take away was a small price for the honour and pride the enemy instilled in the soldiers of yesteryears.

We therefore we need a different word, as ‘enemy’ is not right any more. I think that word could be ‘rival’. Rivals are what we need in our lives. A sporting analogy would be - what a Rafael Nadal is to Roger Federer. What would Federer be without his Nadal?! There is no champion, who has not been challenged by a worthy rival. We all need rivals. A rival who makes a champion out of us is nothing but a godsend. A person that we find hard to not respect for their potential and not just an evil person that wants to take away our trophy.

Therefore, Success = function of (rivals). That allows me to think of another angle to the equation about enemies. We all need to re-look at all the people that we consider to be our enemies. And look for a rival in them. Is there something in that person that we can appreciate and respect. If we can respect our ‘enemies’ we can overcome hate and turn those enemies into a resource – a rival. A godsend.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Sking on the slopes

A hypothetical and irreverent take on what could happen to the sking event at the Winter Olympics in 2050. The steepest slopes would of course be made up of what we are producing by the millions of tonnes each day!

Reporter says: We hardly had any snow this year and we thought that would ruin the fun at this year's Olympics. Thank God for the piles of garbage we had around that they have come as a perfect replacement for the missing snow and our skiers are having fun sking down these slopes... They just have to keep their masks on at all times. The fun and games continue...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Vancouver 2010

I enjoyed this piece from Vancouver 2010. I'd say - 'This is not bad for a couple skating on ice eh?!' In my humble and non-technical opinion, I will give them a full 10 points for the spirit and honesty of this piece. Well Done!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Race of Life

Race of Life

Saturday, February 13, 2010
If life was a race, then dreams are like pit stops.
Passages of time that are brief but crucial.
A racer that doesn't make these stops,
Never will win even with the greatest potential.

Pitstops that many racers fear,
When used wisely helps a racer sort out his gear.
I doesn't take rocket science to make clear
That you are much safer driving on new tyres.

Remember, you cannot stay in a pit stop forever
Even a wee bit longer and you’ll get lapped over.
A pit stop is just to get things sorted.
And join the race that you have started.

When you join the race back from the pit lane
Don’t worry if you join the pack a few places behind.
If you took the pit stop and stuck to your plan,
You will take the lead just in time for the finish line.

Happy racing!