What will I be at 40?

It’s  a thought that I have been mulling over.  I suspect it comes from the taking-stock-of-life phase that I have been in. A phase that has stretched over 4 months, much longer than my usual phases. Its making me reassess my life, scrutinize each aspect of it and creatively visualize (yup, that comes from a self-help book) for myself how I would like my future life to be.

Observation is  one the greatest source of learning.  You don’t have to live a thousand lives, go through a million experiences, and make mistakes to learn from them. You have to observe people around you carefully, spend some time pondering over your observations to reach your own realizations. Of course living, experiencing, getting your fingers burnt are all important and have value but one life is too short to do all the learning that needs to be done. It’s quicker to learn from others.

In my stock-taking phase I notice my observation has become keener. I am looking at people – really looking at them-  and observing  what they are doing, how and why. Worldly observation mixed with my aspirations and life situations is helping me decide for myself what I would like to do differently. It’s a path I am paving brick by brick.

So far this is what I’ve got figured out.  It is a bullet point list of 5 things I have decided I will differently scores of others around me. I’m going to revisit this list when I hit 40 to see how true I have been to it.

1.        Endless learning.  There is just so much to learn in this world.   Sometime around middle age, people move from actively learning to actively dispensing gyan.  Very avoidable. Keep the ego out to open up new vistas of learning.  Keep up with the changing times.  Admit you don’t know and be willing to learn from others, even those younger to you.

Learn from life. Believe that people and situations come your way to teach you something. Be vigilant and understand what life is saying though its patterns and  twists and turns. Talk to people from different strata of society. Everyone has a point of view, and experiences to share.

Find and pursue new interests, hobbies and activities.  It’s a good way to keep occupied and to develop a wholesome personality.

Read.

2.        Keep it flexible. It seems that with age come rigidity (in mind and body). Quite a scary thought.  Rigidity of mind seems more worrisome, its effects quite detrimental. After all, it’s the mind that rules us.

With flexibility comes adaptability. Both are essential to cope with life, the changing society, the cultural shift, the younger generation…

Flexibility and adaptability helps us change. Without change, there is no development, no advancement, no progress.

3.        Find yourself.   There comes a time in life  ( I am told around mid life) when the responsibilities pile up, the to-do list is  never ends  and time is always short.  Amidst the madness and the demands of the profession and the (ever expanding?) circle of family and friends, make sure to find time for yourself. Have your own space- in the physical world (if possible) and  in the mind.

Find a way to get time off from the noisy exterior world, even if it’s just a half hour a day. Use the time to think, contemplate, recharge. Not enough attention is given to the importance of concentrating and contemplating.

4.        The balancing act.  Life is all about setting your priorities right. There is so much that life offers you that you must consciously pick for yourself what you want. You can’t want it all, so prioritise.

Know how much importance to give to what – work, family (nuclear and extended), children, self development, money, wealth, recreation, health, hobbies, travel.  It’s quite a long list to prioritise.  🙂

Find out what important and what’s not.  It helps to get that clarity. Ignore everything that falls in the not- important list. There isn’t enough time to bother about it.

De-clutter. Lead a simpler life. Own less. It’ll save a hell of a lot of time.

5.         Invest.  In life things that really matter are all long term in nature.  Investments made over a long period of time give rich returns. They also demands time, attention and nurturing.   So invest. In money, health and relationships. At 70, all  of it will be  worth it.

That’s it for today. The next post should hopefully be lighter. Enough of the taking-stock-of-life phase. I need a new phase!

Embroidery lessons

I read this a long, long time ago. In some magazine, somewhere in my grandmother’s house. It was so long ago, that I couldn’t recall the name of the author or the title of the write-up. (Eating those almonds as a child- the ones I fed street dogs and ants- would have benefited me. No kidding.) Without the specifics, all these years the primary message stayed with me. When some days back I wanted to read the entire write up again, I resorted to Google. A few keywords and one hit at Google led me to the original text.

It’s a write up that, I think, applies so well to life.

When I was a little boy, my mother used to embroider a great deal. I would sit at
her knee and look up from the floor and ask what she was doing. She informed
me that she was embroidering. I told her that it looked like a mess from where I
was. As from the underside I watched her work within the boundaries of the little
round hoop that she held in her hand, I complained to her that it sure looked messy from where I sat. She would smile at me, look down and gently say, “My son, you
go about your playing for awhile, and when I am finished with my embroidering, I
will put you on my knee and let you see it from my side.”

I would wonder why she was using some dark threads along with the bright ones
and why they seemed so jumbled from my view. A few minutes would pass and
then I would hear Mother’s voice say, “Son, come and sit on my knee.”

This I did only to be surprised and thrilled to see a beautiful flower or a sunset. I
could not believe it, because from underneath it looked so messy. Then Mother
would say to me, “My son, from underneath it did look messy and jumbled, but you
did not realize that there was a pre-drawn plan on the top. It was a design. I was
only following it. Now look at it from my side and you will see what I was doing.”

Many times through the years I have looked up to my Heavenly Father and said, “Father, what are You doing?” He has answered, “I am embroidering your life.” I
say, “But it looks like a mess to me. It seems so jumbled. The threads seem so
dark. Why can’t they all be bright?” The Father seems to tell me, “My child, you
go about your business of doing my business, and one day I will bring you to
Heaven and put you on My knee and you will see the plan from My side.”

~ Author Unknown ~

Office and interns

“4 hands

2 heads

and a secretary please.”

I submitted that request a month ago and (obviously) didn’t get any of the things I asked for.   Life’s spinning a little out of control nowadays. It’s mostly been crazy on the work front- new projects, new people in the team and some encouraging results of the hard work put in together. It’s been rewarding but tiring.  Not tiring enough for me to crib about it (yet). I prefer action- packed days to days spend twiddling my thumbs. It’s far better to work hard and crash at the end of the day than to sit at night and what you achieved.

When there is so much happening on the work front, it’s natural to have a post of a work-related aspect. (A fun-ner travel post will follow.) I have had a trainee with me for the last 3 months. A young girl with a pretty face and a soft voice, who chose to intern in my department, though she would have been better suited in another department.   She came through the recommendation of a senior. We weren’t certain if she would be suited to the department’s nature of work, but with the recommendation note being waved in front of our faces, we took her on.

I tend to be judgmental about students/interns who come via the “approach route”, but I try to keep my biases at bay. Students must be assessed as individuals. Their backgrounds/recommendation letters/ parental connections shouldn’t colour our judgment of them.

Engaging with the intern closely was an eye-opener in many ways.  Her student life and mine were poles apart.

I come from a regular middle class family and I learnt early on that life=hard work. It was something learnt simply by observation. The parents worked hard. Both held jobs where they worked honestly and diligently.  The home front was never neglected- I don’t remember a single day when I didn’t get a home-cooked packed lunch or when I didn’t get academic support or when either or both parents were not available when I needed them.  Our home was basic, but always warm and welcoming, neat and well-kept.  My grandparents were as hard working. My grandmother didn’t work outside the house, but there wasn’t a single thing she didn’t do in-house- from tossing up great meals, to stitching clothes, to turning waste into gorgeous decoration pieces, to knitting and embroidering….. My grandfather was a professor and spent his spare time writing books. Everyone in the family worked hard. There was no other way of doing things.

When as an adolescent I had phases of doing things “my way” -which essentially meant taking it easy and doing nothing- they didn’t last long. The parents were quick to give me a reality check.   Basic fundamentals of life were made clear and like everyone else in the family, I learnt to live by them.

This sweet talking, cute looking intern was quite different from any of the previous interns I had worked with; or for that matter, my memories of myself as an intern. Everyone at office arrived at their desks by 9, the intern would waltz in at 10. She would normally leave by 3:30-4:00.   She preferred to choose her work- field work in the dusty and dirty Gurgaon villages wasn’t nice, writing reports and compiling data got boring,  working on holidays for special events wasn’t possible and travelling even short distances without a car was out of the question. Tasks given would take forever to finish and they would be done half-heartedly. A big chunk of the day was spent chatting on BBM or taking calls. It soon came to a point when where wasn’t much work I could involve her in.

It was hard to understand how such a disconnect existed between her expressed aspirations and actions. On her first day at work she expressed her desire to be independent, to work as a profession and move out of the shadow of her dominating (very well connected and very rich) father. Her actions didn’t match her aspirations. A quick, subtle chat session of getting the work life in order didn’t help. I followed that up with several hints on pulling up her socks….and then a warning. I made her reporting system more stringent. None of that worked.  She heard me alright, but it didn’t hit her. She knew she wasn’t being honest to herself or the job, but somewhere inside she knew she always had her father to bail her out. The sad fact of life is that some things can we worked out with pots of money & the right connections.  Once children know that, it is unlikely that they will care much for values such as honestly, hard work, integrity.  The pots of money and connections will serve you well for some part of your life, but I doubt if they work in the long term.  She knew  the MBA seat she wanted could be bought. She knew she could get a job by pulling a few strings. Why then was there any need to work at all?

I usually enjoy working with interns and this is the first time I have been so disappointed by one.  Not just disappointed that she did not learn anything concrete or do anything substantial while she was with us, but disappointed that like her there are other young people being brought up on the wrong value system, taking away opportunities that other’s deserve and doing nothing with the opportunities they have grabbed.

The list

A theme post. This time on 10 things I’d like to do before I die. Just 10? I am sure if I get down to thinking I’ll have a much longer list. But we’ll leave that for another day. Let’s get started with 10 things that come to my mind instantly when I think of a bucket list.

bucket

  1. Find out the meaning of my life. This is a tough one, I know. And I am totally clueless about it, but I am keen on cracking this question. If I’ve been put on planet earth, there must be a reason for it. There’s got to be a meaning behind it all.  If I could find that out, that would be amazing.
  2. Meet a true ascetic/yogi. At least once. I am very fascinated by them but I don’t know where one can find a genuine one. One who has found answers to questions such as those in point 1 above.
  3. To become a better person- more patient, more tolerant, more understanding, more  compassionate, more humble, more determined, kinder.
  4. Travel- anywhere, everywhere, I am not fussy. 🙂 I am keen to see the unseen, non-touristy India. I am to cover at least 5 destinations in the East, West, North and South of the country. I am not overly kicked about travelling abroad. I think it would take me a lifetime to see my own country!
  5. Own a house and gather a sufficient savings to tide through life. This will happen only if I learn to manage money better, to save and invest in a disciplined fashion.
  6. Pick a social cause and make an actual contribution. Even if its small and no one even knows about it.
  7. Take good care of my parents. Keep them happy and make them proud of me.
  8. Have a family and do a bloody good job of caring for it.
  9. Be physically fit and mentally agile at all ages
  10. Own a dog and an aquarium. And may be a self-run bakery in the hills. The bakery is negotiable, the dog and aquarium are not.

After I wrote the list, I realise some of this stuff  I’d like to get done within the next couple of years. Others get a longer time frame to get accomplished.And yes, when I do kick the bucket, I want people to remember me. Not because of the possessions  I acquired or the corporate ladder I climbed but because of the polite words I spoke , the help I extended, the kindness and consideration is showed. That would be a life well lived.

So, who is going green?

We live, we learn. Each day teaches us something new. Its like life is a gigantic jigsaw puzzle and each day that we live, we learn to fit one little piece in place.  We understand it all, one piece at a time.

 Of late, this little piece has fit into my puzzle. Irrespective of how many theories people propose about social  change, the one thing that is of real consequence, one that really matters, is intent – pure and simple. That is what is fundamental  to change. If you have the intent and your heart is in the right place, all other things follow.

It is with the right intent and a good heart that these young boys and girls are working at  a  project that yields results very slowly, but has benefits that are long term and impact large populations.  What do they do? They rescue trees. Ever  heard of something like that?  I hadn’t till I got to know of them.

While everyone is talking about the deteriorating  condition of the planet and painting a depressing and scary picture of the future for all,  these young people are actually out there doing something to  improve the situation. And they are doing it with very little money,  no corporate backing, no political support,  but a clear intent and a  strong will.

The mother found this group- they call themselves The Green Umbrella- quite by accident. She had been wanting to plant banyan trees for long time and her search ended with The Green Umbrella . The organisation’s  mandate is to rescue indigenous plants varieties  such as peepal and bargad or vat that expel large quantities of oxygen and support biodiversity offering food, shelter other creatures. They  identify  plants  that need rescuing, such as those that grow on roof tops of  dilapidated old buildings and neglected road corners , carefully extract them , re-pot them and tend to them till such time that an appropriate and permanent space can be found to plant them- not an easy time in a city like Mumbai! They also try to get hold of species that are fast becoming extinct and propagate them. Besides rescue operations, they  undertake horticulture and gardening assignments and procure for you rare species of medicinal and spiritual plants, if you promise to take good care of them.

The mother has brought home a rare type of banyan. Called the Krishne vat, the striking feature of this plant is that the edges of  its  leaves fold inward gently. Legend has it, that Lord Krishna  used to eat butter out of these leaves. The Green Umbrella found this rare plant at the Byculla Zoo and made 4 cuttings.  Unfortunately 3 didnt survive. The one that did, is being cared for by the mother now.

The Green Umbrella  operates in and around Mumbai.  Working on a  shoe-string  budget, and incurring most expense out of their pocket, this group of 6 youngsters hold jobs, but their heart really is in plant recuse and revival. A worthy cause to support, if you feel for  plants and worry about the fast pace at with which indigenous  species are disappearing.  If you want to know more about Green Umbrella’s  work or support the organisation in any way, you can write to Vikram Yende at vikram.yende99@gmail.com. I am sure any support extended will be greatly appreciated by the team.

A fish out of water

When I moved to Delhi, I chose an accommodation that was closed to office. My parents chose, to be precise. I was ready to pack my bags and head back home when I heard the house rents here.  I don’t know why people keep saying Bombay is expensive. Delhi isn’t much better either. After round 4 (or was it 6?) of discussions on where to stay, it was decided I’d stay close to work and pay a steep, steep house rent. It would save me time, I would tire less and would have time and energy to pursue hobbies, cook for myself, manage the house and occasionally socialize. Getting back home after sitting late at work would be easy. I wouldn’t need to invest in a car, an asset that demands a fair amount of investment, not to mention maintenance and a parking space. Living close to office would thus be the perfect solution to my housing woes.

The only decent residential location that could be found close to office happened to be a part of Delhi that most people define as posh. Posh in a way that is well beyond your and my imagination of posh.  Sprawling bunglows with chawkidars and dogs on guard. Six cars and five full- time servants for a family of four. Ladies dripping with diamonds, enveloped in an air of perfume. Toddles playing under the supervision of the maids, no mother or father in sight. Teenagers driving CR-Vs at neck breaking speed honking loudly at unsuspecting pedestrians and deriving some strange thrill out of this exercise. Men with more money than they or their accountants can count. To say I was, and continue to be, maladjusted here is an understatement.

I come from the middle class family. God’s been kind and we have always had enough to have all the necessities in place with enough surplus to indulge when we’ve felt like it. We have always had help around the house, but as far back as I can remember, it’s been part time. It’s more a matter of choice than anything else. We want our privacy; we are not comfortable with a full-time maid hearing every conversation, knowing every detail of our lives. We experimented with full- time house help and didn’t adjust well to it.  We are also a family that likes to do our household chores together.  We like to cook our own food. We enjoy the weekly trip to the mandi to hand- pick up our vegetables and we don’t have a problem in carrying back a bag or two.  We don’t mind driving around town and if its long distance we have no qualms about ditching the car and taking the local train. Sure, we take help when we need it, but its supplementary help. The drivers and maids and malis and dhobis don’t run our house. So this place, with its upper-upper end living, makes me feel like a fish out of water.

It’s not the abundance of material wealth that makes me uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with people having so much material wealth. I am sure they’ve worked really hard to acquire it.  And I don’t undermine the importance of material comforts either. They have their place in life and I understand that. What I do have a problem with is when people are so involved with themselves and their material wealth that other people cease to exist for them. When people are no longer seen as people but as a means to acquire some material or physical comfort, it just doesn’t seem right to me. But I guess when you have too much of everything good in life, you forget that basic values that are significant no matter where you live, how much you earn and who you break bread with.

People here never cease to surprise me.   While the bejeweled lady talks to her friend perfectly properly, she turns into a different person altogether when talking to her maid. Suddenly all the sophistication vanishes, ordered are yelled out and immediate attention and action demanded. Drivers, who lug around large shopping bags and run errands, never hear a thank you and no one from the family offers to carry a bag, no matter how over loaded the poor man is. Salespersons at the shop are snapped at. Currency notes are slapped rudely on the counter.

I also wonder what people who have others to do everything for them, do with their time. There is the cook, the gardener, the driver, the home tutor for the children, the part-time maid, the full time maids, the ballet teacher. When you don’t do any of the mundane chores, what do you do with all the time you have at hand? When you don’t wake up in the morning with a ready list of things to do at home and work, how do you fill the hours? Of course there is socialising and shopping, but I would assume it gets to a point when it becomes mind-numbingly boring. Even if it doesn’t, I can’t understand why being rich should automatically turn you into a thoughtless person.  I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t mention that I have met the odd kind, considerate person here, but the numbers are so few that I could count them all on one hand.  Wealth really does affect people in strange ways. I only wish that while everyone enjoyed their material abundance, they would also realise just how fortunate they are to have so much, and that a little humility, kindness and generosity never hurt anyone.

The road not taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost