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?

Muller-Lyer

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

Pineapple India

“India is like a pineapple; rough, thorny and ugly on the outside but a juicy fruit on the inside”

But only if you have the time & patience to carry yourself through the discomforts. Even after you get to the fruit, you cannot just eat it. You always have to make sure there are no thorns or rough edges. You cannot afford to make mistakes.

Continue reading “Pineapple India”

What makes India what it is (and the things that annoy the heck out of me)

Ever since I moved to India a year back I have been cranky. One and a half years. That’s a long time to stay cranky and honestly that’s the longest I’ve ever been cranky, considering I’ve lived with my parents for 18 long years. Haha 🙂

It doesn’t just start with cranky. It starts with me being a little edgy, then annoyed, then a little irritated and then lots and lots of crankiness. Talking about being annoyed, in a survey on what annoyed New Yorkers the most, here’s what a resident had to say:

I’ve lived here all my life. The things that annoy you about New York are usually the things that define New York.

That’s exactly how I feel about India. I cannot change many things that annoy me about living here because it’s part of what defines this place and as I write this I realize I am less annoyed because I understand the things that annoy me. That’s frustrating because I want to write about how India annoys me and this post is turning in to what makes India what it is.

Climate & Weather

India has an extraordinary variety of climatic regions, but a lot of India is very hot and humid. The hotness is fine but the humidity is gruesome. If hotness is having to spend time with someone you don’t get along, then humidity is being bombarded with a whole family of don’t-get-alongs. In a single room. With a lot of heat & humidity. 🙂 Never ever would your hair be so sticky or body so drenched in your own sweat. You’d wish you were in a groundhog day sort of situation where you keep taking showers and never get out. But just the way Phil Connors wakes up one day and decides to learn new things every day, the weather would sneak up on you. Your body has a way of adjusting to the surrounding and letting you know of the changes you need to make to accommodate yourself.

Besides you find lot of uses for all the hotness around. [It’s like knowing that you’re short or born with a third nipple & have no option except to come to terms with it :)]. There’s the solar energy for instance. Natural dehydrator (for vegetables & fruits, of course), natural dryer (for clothes) and most of all electricity. There is no need for moisturizer or humidifier, for most part. There is more business for cap & umbrella manufacturers. There are more tender coconuts selling in summer than ever before. There is more business for fruits & juice vendors. Of course, there is more business for water suppliers that provide for the juice. So there’s more diseases that spread through water. Then there’s more business for doctors & hospitals. Then there’s more business for pharmacies. Then there’s less money left with common people. Now, that’s why they need the free dehydrator and dryer!

People & Pollution

People come in all shapes and sizes. They come in all colors & shades. They speak many languages & dialects that even some of their own relatives can’t understand. What unites them is religion & culture. Religion that was formed with the intention of creating a discipline and routine in life. Culture that took shape as a result of a necessary class system and social structure. There is no room for petty complaints and emotional insecurities. People handle lot of uncertainties and deal with much bigger problems every single day of their life. I could spend my whole life not really knowing about how people live their life struggling in poverty in the first world because of the sheer percentage. It’s easy to ignore them or think of them as the norm, but hard to go through life not seeing struggling families, poverty and drudgery of the working class in India.

People come together during crisis and don’t hesitate to help out when they think you’re in need. People also don’t blink twice before they ask you why you’ve put on so much weight or why your dress is so revealing. There’s so much population it would be a miracle if there was no pollution. With disturbing reports like this, politicians trying to make easy money through corruption and a very small percentage trying to make things better, people don’t have the resources or money to invest on smart cars or fuel efficient vehicles. There are few working on solar energy and rain water harvesting but the monotony of day-to-day life drowns these efforts like a fly drowning in a bucket of water. A small movie scene like this would not make sense if watched separately, you’d have to watch the whole movie to understand but this explains why people need tools like religion. It’s hard to understand why people would waste so much time on religion, but poverty is exactly why organizations like this come in handy for the common man. That and the free entertainment in the form of chats and gossips with friends and neighbors.

Traffic & Congestion

If you love off-roading, you’re sure to have a great time in India. The short-sighted road designs were built with just bullock carts and horse carriages in mind. The small businesses over-crowd the already crowded busy roads while trying to make a living. The unusually high number of vehicles (and big-ass ones at that) in narrow lanes, mal-nutritioned pedestrians, haggling housewives, ogling middle-aged sex-deprived buggers and kids drooling over stale over priced sweets are definitely a treat for any first world aspirers. We shouldn’t deny the quick mushrooming of fly-overs and bridges all over the city, but the narrow lanes in furural cities seem to have been constructed with a myopic view of development and progress. The old joke about one government worker closing up the pit dug up by another is still true in many ways, but people are also getting smarter about certain things. The businessman with a laptop & wi-fi hooked up in his car who interacts with clients on the road, for instance.

Congestion is not as bad as in China, although it’s scary to imagine the day I would witness the world’s worst traffic back-up in India. The congestion is not just with road traffic, but railway and air as well. Land congestion is a totally different story. Independent houses seem like a waste of space and unnecessary luxury sometimes. I am often reminded of an interview I read of Arundhati Roy somewhere (or is it my imagination?) where she is asked about why she hasn’t written a second fiction (first being God of Small Things) and she talks about how she concentrates in her work on solving third-world problems and how fiction writing seems like such a waste. (I haven’t written everything verbatim and  I’m sure possibly some of it came from a fragment of my own imagination). The point is when you see shortage of space everywhere, as a responsible adult you start to wonder why you need a big house with a yard (and this is true of so many other things as well). These are exactly the reasons why people need to use smart cars, use smart cards and have smart families. But with so much population & traffic, the common man’s mind is so congested he takes forever before he realizes he needs a smarter approach in life.

Attitude & Actions

It’s very hard to understand people in India. Especially as an insider, I find it tormenting to experience and endure the fleeting facets of human psychology. I think there should be an “Indian Psych 101” course for anyone that comes to India (or even travels outside and re-enters India) to prepare them for what I would like to call a never ending tsunami of distress and an adventure with emotions. Privacy is an outdated concept in India. Who has time to think of privacy when you have worries about saving for the next meal or saving up for your daughter’s dowry! There is a whole section of the middle class population that is still dumb enough to waste time on MLM & pyramid schemes, but you also see hope when you hear about the shrewd teenager who figured out he can cash an untapped market online by providing information about pets for the first-world.

People gossip and give a hard time to fellow human beings, spread rumors about things they have no knowledge about and don’t bat an eye while hearing about their enemies’ despair. But people halt, take time to give you directions and even push your car or go out of their way to help you with a flat tire in a deserted village very well knowing that they may not be seeing you again in their life. People have an ill-informed attitude they learnt from movies and television that rich are evil. They fail to understand that not all rich got that way by fluke or crook and that they too might have worked like a dog. Many have an attitude that they deserve something just because they are poor. But you are inspired every now and then when you see a coconut vendor or an auto driver that won’t take even a penny more than what they think they deserve. Haggling is a necessary evil for them because there are too many cheaters around that would do anything to make a quick penny.

I haven’t read all her books but from what I hear it seems like Ayn Rand should be India’s national religion. Expecting nothing from anyone else except yourself would be an ideal attitude for all Indians. Working towards a common cause while maintaining individuality would be the ideal action plan to go along with that attitude.

That along with some ecstasy and Prozac to go with the morning coffee! 🙂

P.S: I tried to reflect my take on India in my writing – a mix of understanding of what the country is followed by sarcasm, a by-product of helplessness, again followed by some inspiration and then some serious depression due to lack of any solid action plan. I can only hope they all showed up in my writing!

What are your views on India? Have you ever lived here, heard about it or visit once in a while? What are your experiences?

Problems in a furural city (& is it possible to solve them?)

“In India, I found a race of mortals living upon the Earth, but not adhering to it, inhabiting cities, but not being fixed to them, possessing everything, but possessed by nothing” – Apollonius of Tyana

[I am not sure if the quote above is true anymore. People of India are definitely not possessed by nothing. Talking about being possessed, poverty and mediocrity are two things that come to my mind. Hope as well along with religion and prejudice.]

People have hope only when they truly believe that they are moving forward. We look at a problem and try to solve the problem by coming up with ideas. The process of problem solving is mundane & arduous unless we innovate. The act of getting down to business & truly taking steps towards making the problem go away needs creativity. How do we do this?

I have been wondering about many such problems ever since I moved to India. I had been used to many luxuries in my previous life:

  1. Gym – getting a good work out
  2. Supermarket – having a great shopping experience
  3. Child care – finding nice entertainment & brain booster for my son
  4. Transportation – enjoying great music in hassle free traffic
  5. Food – relishing great variety of produce & having delicious meal every day

It makes me sad that these basic needs are luxuries in India, more so in furural cities.

If you are wondering, a furural city:

  • is a term I just coined to denote a “fucked-up rural city”
  • is neither a village nor a city and still making up its mind
  • is slowly progressing towards becoming a city but can’t let go of some prejudices yet

It is a fact that my needs are extreme luxuries for countless families and individuals in India that dare to live on less than $2 a day. My problems are nevertheless problems, for me.

Furural problems

Fitting in

This has been one of my major problems in life. I have been trying to find the place, people and area where I fit in. Place in terms of where I want to live. People in terms of who I connect with. Area of expertise in terms of where my skills fit in. I haven’t found much success in this aspect so far.

I don’t fit in to large groups. I don’t fit in rural areas. I don’t fit in jobs that require one to conform without reason. But that’s not the problem. The problem is with me approaching it as if it’s my problem alone. Everyone has problems – with people, place and work. People adapt and adjust or move. The problem has been that my approach is somewhat flawed and narrow.

In order to solve a problem one needs to have complete understanding of the domain. In this case, that’s me. I am now mature enough (unlike years ago in my teens) to understand that it is ok to not fit in and I precisely know why.

No gym? Try a work-around & work out at home. Not like the real deal, but it’s something.

No supermarkets? Drive to the city once a month for specialty shopping. Not like whole foods, but it’s what’s available.

Child care? No gymboree close by, but what I have is the best. My own custom-tailored entertainment for my son that I’ll be proud of, for years to come!

Transportation & food – I am so far off in solving this problem for myself & my family. For now, I just suck it up & drive in crazy traffic when needed. But I do try to schedule my outings in such a way that I leave during off-peak hours. Who knows, may be I’ll get used to driving here soon. Food is still an issue because I crave for healthy vegetarian & vegan items now & then. I miss feeling light & content at the same time after a delicious, nutritious meal.

Third-world problems

I had been so used to figuring out solutions for first world problems like “why is my skin so dry?” or “how different can i cook this pasta next time?” or “what new step can i learn in my flamenco class this week”? and all of a sudden I am cast away in a place where people are worrying about how they can make ends meet that week or how to avoid pits and ditches in a flooded street after a full night’s rain. They are worrying about just getting by and providing for their family while I ponder over how I’m going to get my toddler to stay quiet in his car seat. It felt at first like lack of empathy and indifference, for instance when my cook would frown at me for throwing away leftovers from the night before. But of course, it was lack of empathy. From my side.

So many people do not have food to eat, but I have a cook. That’s not to mean that I think I’m supposed to ignore my problems. My needs, wants and problems make me what I am and they help me grow. But just being aware of the fact that people are suffering around me makes me a little bit more responsible and cautious anytime I take the next step.

Lack of knowledge & experience

I was born in India. I grew up here. I lived here for almost 20 frakking years before I moved away. I wasn’t raised with the knowledge of family values, money values, adjusting or accommodating to situations here. Nor did I learn that myself. The almost-8-year-hiatus didn’t help much either. So coming back, especially as a family came as a culture shock to me. I have been a total failure in terms of my understanding of what people expected out of a grown family woman vs a carefree little girl and the many many skills needed to survive here. But just knowing that I do not have the skill for something helps me analyze if and how I want to make myself better. Now I know I care about not giving a hard time to a couple of working class citizens that I perceived to be rude. At the same time I do not care about a family member that is cross with me for not complying with their outdated practices. It takes a lot of work and a lot more of my energy thinking through this stuff every single day but I’m hoping I’ll be good enough at this so I can share & pass this on to my son or anyone from his generation when the time comes.

Communication gap

I have very few friends because I am very finicky. Also I don’t fit in large groups. But that’s not a problem with furural city. It’s my problem. But at least in the city (or if I were working full time) I’d have some deep meaningful conversations about things that matter. Because all I find around me are moms and grand moms that stay at home and talk about their kids, house and family. I have no real connection or conversation anymore and fear turning into a bore. I have nightmares of my brain rusting away and suddenly I am unable to speak or write anything intelligible. I have no solution for this yet except for writing my heart out, blogging and reaching out to like minded virtual friends. (And yes, moving away to the city is a solution, but at least not right away.)

Quality & competency

This is another problem that I have no solution for yet. The quality of things, integrity and competency levels are far too low. By now I have an understanding of why but not sure how I can make it work for me. People’s lives are so mundane and hard that the work they do is not enjoyable anymore & almost no one here has the option of not doing a work they don’t like. Also, they are not raised to be proud of what they do or taught to be perfect at any job they take up. This makes it hard for a person to keep up his spirit and be great at his work day in and day out while going through the washing cycle of life and responsibilities.

Focusing and solving my problems one at a time even at a snail’s pace helps me understand what people here go through thereby focusing on the bigger problems of society.

Do you have furural problems? Or any problems at all?