Diwali Graduation

In the process of crossing the bridge from emotional living to rational living you encounter a few steps:

  1. Hovering phase
  2. Awareness phase
  3. Research phase
  4. Discomfort phase
  5. Denial phase
  6. Anger phase
  7. Speculation phase
  8. Acceptance phase
  9. Re-defining phase
  10. Enlightenment phase

I believe I have graduated to somewhere between step 7 & step 8 for many issues. For the ones unexplored, I am sure I will get there.

The journey so far has been tiresome. But I survived. 

 Here’s a snippet story of my journey:

In high school, we played a game every Saturday during English class. We called it ‘Personality’. The class was divided into two teams. A student from Team A would pose a question randomly to one student from Team B. If the answer is convincing, the student in Team A continues asking questions to more students in Team B until someone answers incorrectly. If the answer is incorrect or not convincing, Team B gets the turn to ask questions to Team A.

It was Varsha’s turn. She picked me. Judging from the previous questions (“You are MJ. My question to you: Why did you decide to become white?”, You are Butros Butros-Ghali. Who is your favorite Indian and why?” etc), I was very nervous. While I had heard the name Butros Ghali and knew who MJ was, I had very little knowledge of their work as well as life, hence less confident about giving a convincing reply. I stood clumsily anticipating embarrassment that would haunt me for the rest of my life.

 She asked “You are God. My question to you: Why would you create so many religions and cause such pain and turmoil for mankind?”

 “I created religions? You created them all on your own, I never had a hand in that.”

 After a brief pause, “Yeah, that’s true”. Then she moved on. I was disappointed even though I scored one point for my team. At the time, I didn’t understand why. Perhaps I would have been happy to be wrong and reinforce my initial assumption that I was going to screw up? More likely, now that I think about it, I was excited by the question (and my own instant reply) and wished for further discussion that expanded my mind about the topic. Sadly, only recently I have been exploring the topic again. I am finally ready to experience discomfort, face looming uncertainties and persist through mental discord. Playing “What if” game helps me see the fun in this journey.

“What if I was a brain-in-a-vat?”

“What if, for every choice I make, there is another ‘me’ somewhere making one of the right choices?”

“What if I could never forget a single thing in life right from this moment?”

“What if I forget everything from my past until this moment?”

The point of this exercise is to have more answers, better theories and shatter assumptions in everyday life to have a more rational view of life. Rationality triumphs everything. Good choices aid the rational process. Occasionally, emotions and associative memory hinder the journey towards a more rational self. My entire life story is about that and how I’m working on them.

 Consider the following. Which of the two lines is longer?


If you thought the one in the bottom, you are not alone. This is Müller-Lyer illusion. Both lines are of the same length.

Like optical illusions, we experience cognitive illusions as well. We tend to place more value on ourselves, things we own, experiences we gain, cultures we define and so on. To break the mold and rediscover oneself is extremely unnatural, not to mention difficult; and more so during festivities that rekindle fond social memories.

Diwali, to me, is one such occasion. Waking up reluctantly to the in-house nadaswaram/melam, being forced in to the ritual of oil bath, deciding which one of the new clothes to wear, deciding order of cracker bursting, waiting impatiently for relatives to arrive, sumptuous feast of a brunch, post-meal coma, running and chasing around the house with kids, singing and dancing sessions along with a special hot coffee, more cracker-bursting, more talking. The cherry-on-top has always been when everyone finally leaves. The emptiness would set in. The vacant feeling of having no purpose in life would become unbearable. Rushing to the terrace to be alone sensing an out-of-control surge of indescribable emotions that I’d want no one to find out – That cannot be a fond memory, considering logically.

Here’s where the value theory comes in. Awareness of the ill-effects of crackers is one thing. Practicing in real life is another. It is uneasy not to be in a social group during the occasion; it enhances the loneliness. It is unconventional to stay at home when everyone else is bursting crackers; it makes you stand out. It is unheard of to not offer the privilege of bursting crackers to the 5 year old; it makes you guilty.

Overcoming the cognitive strain is a choice. Once you cross that threshold, you realize that being alone for a cause is good. Standing out for a good reason makes you stronger. Guilt is in the mind. Having parents that want better things for the family, for the environment, having parents that offer a platform for logical reasoning and rational thinking is also a privilege.

 I’m glad Diwali was here. I’m relieved that it’s over.

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger” – Friedrich Nietzsche