Saturday, March 12, 2011


It’s been a while since I’ve allowed myself to think. “Allowed?”. Yes, allowed. “But isn’t thinking involuntary?”. It is. A little like breathing in that sense, it goes on unnoticed until you stop and pay attention. Or you decide to just plain stop. To stop breathing, to hold back the air. The same way, you decide to stop thinking, to hold back certain thoughts. But then, like breathing, there’s only so long you can hold back, only so long you can tame the force, before the flood gates burst open with such fierceness it’s almost as if you’re flung out of your own body. A force more literal in the first case, but more overwhelming in the latter. “And what then, once the barrier has given way?”. After a near crippling shock to the body, the survival mechanism kicks in. You breathe. Short, rapid and involuntary at first, then gradually slower, deeper and more deliberate.
Sadly that’s where the similarity between thinking and breathing ends.

The body, better equipped to recover from such anomalies, steadies itself almost immediately, and very soon a familiar rhythm sets. The mind however, takes the hit, the blow of the barrage of suppressed thoughts, much harder. And the real reaction begins only once the water has steadied. “But why?”. Because the mind is notorious for the deathly calm after the storm, when the tempest has passed but the water still hasn’t cleared. It is in those turbid waters that the most connections are made, that you begin the see patterns where earlier there were none. Ironically it’s amidst this murkiness that the most glaring realizations dawn upon you.
And then you let yourself think.
You let yourself see all the things you’d convinced yourself would take care of themselves with time.
You let yourself see all the things you swept under the carpet, you let yourself see all the things you shoved into the closet.
You let yourself see that jigsaw puzzle with the vacant spot, you let yourself see your clenched fist with the missing piece.

There’s something frightening, near sinister about this unexpected and near instantaneous clarity. “Frightening?”. Yes, because it challenges the status quo, because it dares you to take charge, because it hints that you may have been a coward, because it suggests you’re settling for less, because it pulls you out of your comfort zone, because it rocks the boat.
At the same time, there’s also something uplifting about this daunting lucidity. Because it screams that you deserve better, because it makes you see you can rid yourself of that niggling annoyance, because it makes you realize you’re capable of more, because it shows you a stronger you, because it makes you believe in yourself.

The revelations, they can go either way. They can be enlightening (you realize your calling) or devastating (you realize a longstanding faith was completely unfounded); depending on what you’ve been keeping yourself from pondering upon. Neither is bad, neither is better, neither is avoidable, neither is unnecessary. And one way or another it can be one of those turning points, where you either take an action or change a perspective; and it has the potential, should you choose to let it, to define or redefine you.

But that’s the catch. You’re still in control. You’re still the one who makes that choice.
Whether to grab it by the horns or to get another closet to keep it out of sight.
Whether to swim to shore or to hang on to driftwood in the hope that one day it will take you there.
Whether to breathe or to hold it in for the next time.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Me against Myself

My mind seems to be wired to believe that living twice is how it should be done. And I’m beginning to work up the courage to disagree, wondering if it’s spending half my life anticipating the other half.
What I often find this delinquent doing is, screening a preview of the script before it plays out in real life. Nestled in those Lazy-Boy chairs (complete with the giant tub of popcorn), it indulges in the prospect of what it expects will be pleasurable, and after a short intermission, returns to sit through the anticipation of what might not.

My attempt to understand this desire for a sneak peek led me to realize the reason is fairly obvious and a result of basal instincts. To me it appears to be a little of each of the following:
1. Curiosity
We don’t seem to learn from the proverbial cat. From sticking fingers into electric sockets as children, to trying to figure women as adults (notice I don’t say The Universe or Quantum Physics, because apparently more people, the fairer sex included, believe understanding women ranks higher on the difficulty scale), we always want to learn; and best when by experience. “What happens when I do this being the mantra that guides us through life. The 5 Ws & 1 H make an appearance in every aspect of our living.
2. Delayed Pleasure
This term I borrow from Dan Gilbert. The human mind has a tendency to increase pleasure by delaying gratification. What that involves is pushing up something we know will feel good, because even thinking about us does wonders to lift the spirit. In an attempt to revel in that state of bliss, we like to think, a lot, about things in the future that make us happy. And if possible, move them up further into the future, just so we can continue to day dream about the tremendous joy that their occurrence will bring us. Twisted, I know, but oh so true.
3. Preparedness
And finally, self preservation. This works very well for the stuff we dread or that we’re uncertain of. We like to think through all the possible ways the events might play out (playing the What If game), just so we won’t be caught off guard. As conventional wisdom goes, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”.

However compelling the reasons though, the wayward behavior of this recalcitrant very often proves a little tiresome. And as it turns out doesn’t always have the intended effect. A lot of how you feel about something is determined by the moment you’re supposed to be doing the feeling in. So when you extrapolate, while the mind is thinking of events in the future, the body is very much in the present. Since what you think is heavily biased by what you feel, your version of the future is richly coloured by the present you’re in. As a result, chances are the future you’re conjuring up right now, may turn out to be, and more importantly feel, very little like what you’re imagining.

I realize it isn’t easy to keep something as potent and intractable as the human brain from doing as it pleases. But I also believe that a conscious effort, every now and then, to bring the mind back to the present will afford a little peace of mind, and maybe even return a little of that half a lifetime. Keeping yourself in a spin with things to do is a good start, but a little mental discipline appears to go a long way (a tad difficult, given what you’re trying to reign in is the very thing you’re going to have to use to accomplish that task) to preserving sanity.

Then again, all of this could just be the mind tricking me into believing I might have a say.

No, I wasn’t listening to Jay Sean when the title struck me. Although I do confess to enjoying that album.
Despite what it might seem like, I have absolutely nothing against my mind. I just wish sometimes, it weren’t so much of a bully.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why a Size 7 Will Never Work

Standards are a funny thing aren’t they? Ironically mutable, not quite doing justice to the term. Relativity, as it turns out, spares no one. And standards too, fall prey to the one-size-doesn’t-fit-all phenomenon; differing across people, time, circumstance.

Have you noticed that very often we hold others to standards different from those we have for ourselves? And curiously, there’s no consistency in that even. For example, when someone else succeeds at something, we attribute it to an inherent talent. When it’s us who’s done something to be proud of, very often, we ascribe it to painstaking effort and a generous dose of good fortune. When it’s another who holds a morally debatable position that we don’t agree with, we sit on our pedestal nodding disapprovingly, if not somewhat condescendingly. And yet, when it’s us down there, we convince ourselves it’s circumstance that calls for such an action, ‘means to an end’ taken to be reason enough.

Despite the near rant above, I don’t mean to say we’re all hypocrites who can’t stand up for anything. I’m only trying to make sense of that fork in the road we encounter every so often. On the one hand, taking a firm stand on something, staying true to a certain code you define for yourself; and on the other, adapting and realizing that response to change is the only way to grow, to survive (viruses figured that one out a long time ago). As the saying warns: What you resist persists.

What I struggle to fully understand here is how far do you bend? How tightly do you grip onto, what you thought were your guiding principles? When do those guidelines expire? Do they expire? It certainly seems like they do. Take into consideration a choice you made this month and chances are 2 years ago you wouldn’t so much have looked its way, or worse, you’d have looked it straight in the eyes with narrowed, suspicious glare that could burn a hole through it. The point I’m trying to raise is that we’re constantly changing our opinion of what’s right and what isn’t. A little like a GPS which after a missed turn starts to recalculate, we reevaluate our opinions as we go along, making adjustments based on the experiences we’ve had.

Of course keeping up with change is required, you already knew that, but whatever happened to staying true to your beliefs, to holding your ground in the face of adversity, to not taking the easy way out? The more I think about it, the more I come to believe that just as, and I’ll quote from The Fray for its poetic flavor, sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same”, the path of least resistance isn’t always the wrong one either. Sometimes what comes easy comes easy for just that reason, because it’s right for that time, for that situation. Sometimes it’s best not to read too much into an easier alternative, not to doubt it just because it found you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the tougher, long winding road, personally I question (an understatement actually, grill, interrogate, beat into submission would be more like it) any good thing that dares come my way, but I’m learning that too good to be true isn’t always true and easy doesn’t always have to be hard.

With that settled, my next thought was: how does one identify these sometimes, when it’s better to risk a change in an outlook than to cling to a principle with dear life. And here’re the two things I’ve figured out for me: having a little more faith in intuition and recognizing that each one is different. You’ve got to learn to let your instinct guide you without a paralyzing fear of mistakes. But more importantly you have to recognize that each situation, each individual, each choice is different and you can’t use the one measure to gauge all.

And then sometimes, you just have to do what you think might not be right, if only to know better.


The 7 in the title is with regard to Indian women. The one shoe size you can never find in a sale. Fortunately, I’m not a 7. Unfortunately, being above average doesn’t count when it comes to footwear, larger sizes are near impossible to come by.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Would you like that in a White or Red Sauce?

Do you ever feel like you know or feel about something with absolute certainty? Are you ever completely and utterly sure of a decision? Are you ever sure enough to take a decision? Do you experience that elusive absolute- unquestionable- nothing’s-gonna-change-my-mind kind of surety? The only thing I know with that kind of certitude is that I hardly ever do.

Perhaps doubting a choice as not being perfect isn’t such a bad thing. Perhaps that is what makes life interesting. (Or perhaps this’s just me justifying a lack of conviction.) That you never really know till you know. I remember reading somewhere that happiness is as much a quotient of routine as it is of change and unpredictability. As much as we like knowing that some things will happen without a doubt, I think we also relish the idea of having to bravely (or so we tell ourselves after we’ve found the light switch) walk into the dark.

But I think we’ve also found a convenient way of dealing with it and since I can’t outdo the guy, I shall quote Tony Robbins: “You like the surprises you want. The ones you don’t you call problems.”. The man has a point doesn’t he? As much comfort as we find in familiarity, we dread always knowing where we’re headed. And while most of us like to be prepared for any eventuality, I think it’s inherent in us to crave, every so often, an element of unpredictability, of risk. Given how seldom we can know how things will turn out, maybe this instinct is simply nature’s way of equipping us to deal with the unknown.

But why is it that we rarely feel we’ve made an optimal choice? As though what we’ve picked isn’t perfect, isn’t what will make us most happy? This’s where the human mind, with its tremendous capacity for imagination, demonstrates once again why it’s boss. And that in recent times we’re often drowning in a sea of options, only adds fuel to the fire that the brain insists on setting ablaze each time we’re faced with a choice. The more alternatives we have to pick from, the easier it is for the mind to imagine one that could’ve been better than what’s been selected. No matter which you close the deal on, the brain will visualize one that is better; with all that’s great in your selection, intact and all that isn’t, fixed. (And you can’t blame the mind, it’s only natural to aim for the superlatives, after all even evolution advocates survival of the fittest.)

As Barry Schwartz points out, with all this choice, “…we end up doing better but feeling worse.” He attributes it to Elevated Expectations. With an excess of available options, it becomes very easy for the mind to construct that ideal blend, which like any form of perfection isn’t quite attainable. As a result, we’re never really content (more so since we make that choice), fantasizing of something that can’t be.

So what can one do to make it out alive? There’s no escaping decisions or options, if anything the future will only bring more (one might notice similarity to a certain biological trait in Rabbits) and contentment we need to get a grip on, now more than ever. My method (I wish I could label it with a As Never Before Seen) would be to: Prioritize, Let Go, Stop What If-ing. List the must-haves – be judicious; let go of the rest – you can never have it all, more importantly you never need it all; don’t second guess – you’d feel as much doubt about the pair of jeans you didn’t pick, had you picked them.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Fix

Does Music ever feel like a drug? Are there times in those turbulent monochrome moments (the reds and the grays of moods), that you crave that resounding bass, the rhythmic beats, the angry Rap, the staccato piano, that insane lead, the easy Pop, the feel good Retro, the psychedelic Trance, the romantic Acoustic, the crescendo of a Symphony, the expletive ridden lyrics, the head-banging Metal, the OST’s that take you back to the movie, the aggressive Thrash, the club-by Electronic or just the loudness of any of those?

Does it get your heart pumping, blood rushing, head dizzy, legs aching to pound the ground, leave you out of breath even when you’re just mouthing the lyrics, head moving to the beat with teeth clenched, fists made, in an attempt to contain the energy, eyes shut to keep distractions to a minimum while you immerse yourself in the sound; not knowing what to do with the sudden surge of adrenalin that feels as forceful and yet precarious, as a rising wave in the open sea, just before it’s about to break?

Does it take you to another place, cut you off from everything, drown out all the noise, on the outside and within, the incessant chatter in your own mind; and suddenly you only feel… the sound? Or does it seal out everything external, leaving you with just the empty space in your head to untangle the web of thoughts that feels like stitches slipping off a knitting needle? Does it feel like an invisible protective shield, keeping safe your inner sanctum, giving you just a moment to tidy up the space?

Does it leave you feeling a little cleansed, a little more human, a little more coherent, if only to yourself? Does the release feel invigorating, like you’re ready to take on the world again? Does it unleash in you that form of indignance that is most constructive, motivating you, propelling you, to channel that defiance, to take your best shot?

Is it escape? Is it a deep breath? Is it meditation? Is it white noise? Is it normal? Is it addiction? Is it self-preservation? Is it coping? Is it ritual? Is it remedy? Is it unvalued? Is it unsung? Is it misunderstood? Is it a rescue tube? Is it all that and more?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Being Grown Up - Attempt #1

I recently had to write for a newsletter, under the Letter from the Lead section. Won't get into details of the title because that's all there to it. And also, it's for an initiative on the side, so nothing worth bragging about (I so do wish there was though).
So I was now faced the challenge of not sounding too big for my boots, yet saying something at least remotely lead-like. Working against a tight deadline (because in a very lead-like manner I had procrastinated till the end), this is what I could come up with.
For anyone who has the time, patience and the interest, do let me know if I sound full of it.
It being any of the following:
• Crap
• Greatness (a girl can hope can't she)
• Potential (this would be the safest bet for anyone I know personally, because either I know where you live or I'll be able to find out :D)
• Just plain it

The importance of two very simple yet powerful words struck me recently: Ask and Tell.

I find they’re words we take for granted a lot of the time. And while I believe this holds good in life away from the office too, I’d like to focus a little more on their impact at work.

To start with my first magic word, Ask, an anonymous quote about sums up what I want to say: The only stupid questions are the ones not asked.

We all want to and we try really hard, but it just isn’t practical that we know everything under the Win 7 hood, leave alone the sun!
And I learn each day that there is no shame in asking the questions no matter how trivial they might seem.
In fact it’s an established fact, each time the person that everyone is rolling their eyes at, asks the oh-so-obvious question, close to a fourth of the audience is going “Oh so that’s how it is!”.
So if you aren’t going to do it for yourself, ask for the other 25% of the guys in the room. :)

That brings me to the second revelation that I’d had, to Tell.

If you think about it, the one thing that keeps us sane is knowledge. Man has a universal fear of the unknown. We’re programmed to find comfort in being in the know.
And the work place isn’t any different. The one thing that truly fuels panic is the lack of information.
If we were to list down the things we spend time on each day, I’m sure for most of us status updates would rank pretty high. And why not, how else would we navigate through a system as complex as the IT.
Wouldn’t it be so much better if you just kept people informed of what you’re doing, did or will do as you go along?
I do agree that one can overdo it with the updates (and you might even get your very own spam folder in others’ inboxes!), but you’ll find that timely updates not only establish your credibility and reliability but also help organize your own to-do items.

It took me a while to discover the importance of these two simple, yet often neglected acts. I hope this saves at least a few of you that trouble. :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

For Want of a Better Phrase

As I sit wearing my bright red T-shirt (chosen especially to mark the day, so what if it’s standard Marathon issue, which incidentally I didn’t even run that time), I think, what better day to debate the existence of Love at first sight, then on the designated day of Love itself.

First off, I have absolutely nothing against Valentine’s Day. I don’t get why so many people go about on an Anti-Valentine’s Day crusade. The way I see it, it’s all about practicing live and let live. If you don’t want to be at the giving or receiving end of any expression of affection, don’t. But you have no right interfering with those that want to.
Sure, many argue, what’s the point of reserving one day to display your Love for someone, you should be doing it the year round. I ask: what’s the point of celebrating a birth-day in that case, you do live all year.
The objective is purely ceremonial, a tradition, a way to celebrate your Love for another. Absolutely, you should be at it majority of the 365 days; but this one day, you go that extra step and make it a wee bit more apparent. A tad glamorous too if you may.

Now that that’s cleared up, moving on to the mysterious phenomenon of falling head over heels at first glimpse. To attempt to clinically examine that, I think it would best to start with what exactly Love is.
(Please note, in the course of this post any reference to Love is to the interpersonal, romantic variety. Not the universal flavor, nor the impersonal kind. Especially since I can very well understand and relate to instant Love felt towards inanimate objects (think, the numerous times that superb pair of shoes, that exquisite watch, that gorgeous gadget, stole your heart).)

For me (since I believe the definition varies tremendously from individual to individual and I far from fully comprehend it myself), Love for a person is a combination of a multitude of emotions: Respect, Admiration, Need, Want, Concern, Affection and of course a certain amount of Physical Attraction. Along with a little something that I can’t define, which I think you just feel.(If you’re rolling your eyes and going “Oh boy, this sure is objective”, I should warn you, you might want to skip the rest!)
So while I do believe in that certain magical something, I still can’t quite fathom how you can know you Love somebody the first time you see them. I do mean first here. Not when you’ve already heard about them and then you see them. I mean when you have no idea who they are, what they’re like, what they do, where they’re from. The very first time you laid eyes on them. That’s when I’m talking about.
How can that very first glimpse tell you that you respect, admire, need, want them? You don’t know them yet. And that’s where I get stumped when people talk about falling in Love at first look. Infatuation, I can understand, and I wonder if that’s what is mistaken as Love.

Here’s how I think it plays out
(the assumption being Guy/Girl refers to same physical being throughout the 10 step process):
1. Guy/girl sees guy/girl
2. Is physically attracted

3. Works up nerve to talk to object of fancy aka guy/girl that caught eye
Learns more about guy/girl
5. Finds guy/girl has something in common, or interesting to talk to/be with

6. Continues getting to know guy/girl, along the way participating in combined activities of choice

7. Enjoys spending time and doing things with guy/girl with no motive other than to do so

8. Finds feeling, mentioned in above step, reciprocated in almost full due

9. Claims it was Love at first look

10. The End (added just to make it an even number)

Now here’s my contention. What if at any point following step 4, things don’t work out as smoothly as hypothesized by above 10 step method? You wouldn’t call it Love at first sight then right?
But technically, at first sight means that step 1 should have been all it took. But that can’t really be because you don’t know the person well enough (heck you don’t know them at all) to Love them. At least not in the sense of all the feelings Love encompasses.
Either it should be called "Infatuation at First Sight" (which is sort of redundant anyway) or "Love, the start of which was triggered at First Sight" (extremely cumbersome and not in the least whimsical I agree).
So I think I’ve just uncovered the mystery I sought out to solve, it’s called Love at First Sight, because nothing else sounds as romantic, not to mention is as easy on the tongue!

There’re hoards of (clich├ęd and otherwise) definitions for Love out there, one of my favourites is by a kid, aged 7:
“When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you're scared they won't Love you anymore. But then you get surprised because not only do they still Love you, they Love you even more.”

These views are as of the time of this writing. I reserve the right to change them per circumstance. Seeing (quite literally in this case)/feeling is after all reason to believe! (Please no comments on the physics of how this is an illusion!) Though rest assured, I shall attempt a thorough justification should the need arise.