A Question

A voice said, Look me in the stars

And tell me truly, men of Earth

If all the soul-and-body scars,

Were not too much to pay for birth.

– Robert Frost

This poem, titled “A Question” by Robert Frost was first published in 1942. Frost’s poems are not a result of rebellion against tyranny or frustration against capitalism or anger against poverty or disease or corruption. His poems come out of a general pondering over one’s day-to-day actions. And for that reason, he is my favorite poet.

When I first read this poem, I interpreted it in a way that relates to my own life. I complete my MBA course from IIM Lucknow in a week from now. In all likelihood, this is going to be the last full-time educational program that I undertake. For quite some time now, my friends have been expressing their dismay about leaving the campus, the amazing hostel life and the carefree life of a student. But even as they were reeling in nostalgia, I was unperturbed, almost immune from that feeling. I was actually angry at myself. So last night, when I was reading Robert Frost: Collection of Best Poems, I came across this little piece and it sent me into retrospection. And as I look back over the last 21 months that I’ve spent here, at one of the most prestigious business schools in the country among some of the brightest minds I’ve met, I wonder, whatever I have achieved, is it worth the efforts I put in?

It got increasingly difficult to answer this question, the more I thought about it. For starters, I don’t know how to determine what were my achievements and what efforts I put in. I’ve managed to get a great job, make some wonderful friends and that on an average, I have performed at or above par vis-à-vis any objective or subjective metric that can be used to quantify achievement or success. But is that achievement or success in true terms? Should we take into account whether I am happy with where I am or not, into account? I don’t know but let’s leave it at this level of complexity. On the other hand, if I think of my efforts, I’d say I did the best I could. I worked. I played. I toiled hard. And I lazed away. But even if I know the LHS and the RHS, these are not mathematical entities that can be equated just like that. The question still remains – are my efforts worth my success?

I believe that I will never be able to answer this question that Frost poses in front of us. In fact, I think he’s not even looking for an answer. I read somewhere that poetry is not in revelation but in the quest, it’s not in the rendezvous but in the wait. Hence, the most plausible interpretation of this poem which I’ve arrived at is that we must always keep asking this question and keep looking for an answer. And I think that it is only this circular entanglement that keeps the world spinning.

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Of the Desired, the Destined, the Denied and the Derived

The Alchemist was, indeed, the epitome of Paulo Coelho’s witty and crafty genius. One particular reason why this book is hailed as a modern classic, “The face of contemporary literature” according to Vir Sanghvi, is that it is based on the aspirations of the human soul. Santiago’s arduous journey in search of treasure is portrayed as the journey of one’s life, which can be a very arousing and touching sentiment, spiritually as well as physically.

All lovers of the Indian cinema, or let’s say SRK in particular, must be aware of the famous dialogue from the silver screen catastrophe Om Shanti Om – “इतनी शिद्दत से मैंने तुम्हे पाने की कोशिश की है, की हर ज़र्रे ने मुझे तुमसे मिलाने की साज़िश की है”.  To my greatest surprise (actually, not really), this dialogue has been ‘inspired’ by the converging idea of The Alchemist – “When you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true”. But I often wonder if that were the case, why doesn’t everyone gets what they want? Does the son not cry loud enough for his dying mother to be saved? Does the heartbroken romantic not wail hard enough to be reunited with his love? Or does the derelict not pray urgently enough for a couple of meals for his family to get through just one more day? They do. We all do, to fulfill our basic needs and desires. Although, I don’t really differentiate between the two terms unlike some who associate needs with sustenance and desires with indulgence. Nonetheless enters the villain to the party – destiny. I often feel that the universe does conspire when you really want something. But until you get that thing, you always feel that the conspiracy is versus you. Desire against destiny is one battle that has been going on since biblical times. Both are hailed and both are cursed. What we derive is finally the net result of an intricate balance between the former two. What is denied is often discarded as something that was not meant to be.  However, we don’t understand the need for denial until we’ve derived our benefits. Well… how can else we differentiate a man from a saint!

There’s this wonderful movie I saw again recently – 500 Days of Summer. One of its soundtracks just touched my heart for its sheer simplicity and honesty. Yes, an honest song. Hard to find… huh! I dug a little deeper and found that the song was composed by The Smiths… a very popular English rock band of the yesteryear. The lyrics are so piercing that they just grab your jugular vein and stir you from within…. which in the context of this post I find very relevant! Here they go….

Good times for a change,

Can make a good man turn bad

See, the luck I’ve had,

 So please please please,

Let me, let me, let me,

Let me get what I want…. This time!

 

Haven’t had a dream in a long time,

See, the life I’ve had,

Can make a good man bad.

 So for once in my life,

Let me get what I want,

Lord knows, it would be the first time!

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Life’s Small Things

I want to share a fantastic story that I read a couple of days back in a book by Rev. Dr. Robert H. Schuller named “TOUGH TIMES NEVER LAST, BUT TOUGH PEOPLE DO!” The name was inspiring enough. A story about life, our triumphs, our struggles and the way we overcome it. A story that, though derived from a thing as minuscule and innocuous as a potato, really forces us to reassess our approach towards life. Here it goes:

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The potato farmers of the US state of Idaho sort them out according to their sizes – big, medium or small, after they have been harvested. This helps them to get the maximum market dollar over their product. Its only after these potatoes are sorted, that they are bagged and loaded onto the trucks. This method has been followed for generations by all the farmers – all but one.One farmer never bothered to sort the potatoes at all and still he seemed to making the most of the money. A perplexed neighbor finally asked him, “What is your secret?” He said, “It’s simple. I just load up all the potatoes onto the truck and take the roughest road to town. During the 8-mile trip, the small potatoes fall to the bottom, the medium ones land in the middle and the big potatoes rise to the top”.

This is not only true for potatoes. Its a law of life. Tough people rise to the top in rough times, on rough roads.

“When the going gets tough, only the tough gets going.” ~ Knute Rockne

Tough people bring out their best under adverse situations. They fight. They survive. They win. They come out on top. You’ll never win a battle that you did not fight. You will never hit the bull’s eye, if you never take the shot. Life’s a struggle but giving up is never an option. Accept it. Fight for it. Win it.

Diary of a Procrastinator

Exam times are a giant pain-in-the-ass. For most people, at least. But contrary to this populist dogma, b-school students find exam days to be the most relaxed time of the year. Why, you ask? Well, there’s no monotony of classes, no urgency of project submissions, no batch-meets, no committee works. Instead, there are :

  • Movies – because we sooo need stress busting after a hectic 2-hour exam, 1 hour of which we just sat idle rotating our necks and rolling our eyes to get a better vantage point to peep into the neighbour’s answer sheet.
  • TV series – episodic interventions from latest of H.I.M.Y.M. and T.B.B.T. and Sherlock and Game of Thrones .. in general, we prefer the 22-minute series rather than 43-minute ones because .. come on .. after all, EXAMS are going on. And if nothing else is available, we can always scrounge some random episode from our F.R.I.E.N.D.S folder.
  • Internet videos – Vicious unending chain-reaction of video-watching on YouTube.. because we started watching an ‘informative’ video on Euro Debt crisis and somehow ended up at “Mr. Bean in Judo/Karate class”.
  • Gaming – rounds and rounds of Counter-Strike.. I mean what a better way to vent out your frustration than blowing the heads off of stupid game bots.
  • Music – It’s insanely mind-boggling that only during the exam days will you find hordes of new songs.. all of which you will love to listen.. repeatedly.. while “studying” .. O_O
  • Reading – People will read anything… I mean literally anything but their subjects.. Weird articles on Quora & Cracked, sucky novels, flyers on hostel notice boards.. even the emails from the Library-incharge.

All these things entertain us. They give us an excuse of NOT picking up the book. But there’s one thing we find really stimulating… The Challenge. I have a theory. I believe that why most of us procrastinate studying to the last possible minute is because we love the challenge.. the race against time. 1 year into management programs makes one an adrelanine junkie. We thrive on the fact that our efficiency increases super-exponentially as the hours and minutes vanish. In my experience, I have not seen any student failing just because he did not read enough for the exam. Most of us pass this test. And that’s why b-schools in India produce most effective implementors of JIT systems, I guess. 🙂

Here’s a peek into an average exam day of an average procrastinator:

26/03/13 (previous exam day)

12 pm: (after returning from the exam hall) Shit man.. should’ve studied that.. wasted an entire holiday and didn’t study anything. NEVER AGAIN!!

1 pm: Woah.. what a delicious lunch! Let’s take a nap!

9 pm: 8 hours.. DAMN!.. Ehh, tomorrow’s a holiday and it’s only Supply Chain Management … ppff, I’m NOT pulling an all-nighter for THIS one!!

27/03/13 (break day)

2 am: Umm… can’t sleep! Let’s watch a movie.

5 am: Ok, I’ll just sleep for like 4 hours. Wake up at 9. Have breakfast and study from 10 am to 2 pm at a stretch. Yes, that’s an amazing plan!

2 pm: (just woke up) .. Eh, what the heck.. So I won’t take my afternoon nap!!

4 pm: Well, if I don’t sleep in the afternoon, how will I pull-off an all-nighter?

6 pm: Hmm.. let’s check the section page on Facebooker for syllabus.

6:10 pm: Oh, “Rahul Dravid – Achiever’s Club”…

7 pm: Wow.. “Epic Fail Compilation videos” … AWESOME!

8 pm: Okay.. let’s study now.. wait, let’s have dinner first.. then I’ll study at a stretch.

10 pm: Yumm.. that chocolate ice-cream was delicious.

11 pm: So what the heck.. I still have like 10 hours left before I leave for the exam.

28/03/13 (current exam day)

3 am: Shit.. only 12 slides in 4 hours??.. Gotta speed up..

5 am: Okay.. That’s like 9 slides in 2 hours.. Wow! I’ve improved by 150% (giggle to self over epic-nerdism)

6 am: Let’s talk to the class topper for some important 11th hour topics.

6:01 am: Ohh.. someone posted a Deewar parody on “A guy who didn’t study last night”..

6:05 am: hahah.. that was hilarous!!.. Let’s check what’s new on 9gag.

8 am: Wow, only 1 hour left.. I better just skim through the formulas.

8:45 am: I won’t be able to finish in time.. Let me write the formulas on my hand.

9:55 am: Ok.. be cool.. don’t panic.. you’ve studied all night.. You’re gonna do good. This is just a globe subject.. and well, we all know who’s the God of G.L.O.B.E.!!

10 am – 11:59:59 am: (in the examination hall) HOLY FUCK!! O_O

12 pm: Shit yar.. should’ve studied that.. wasted an entire holiday and didn’t study anything. NEVER AGAIN!!

God save our souls!! …. or NOT, in reality, we don’t give a damn to that either. We’ll take care of it tomorrow.

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When we fall

“I have been a rich man. And I have been a poor man. And I choose rich every fucking day.”

~ Jordan Belfort (The Wolf of Wall Street)

I’ve always been fascinated by studies of the human psyche and how people react in different situations. And of course, I’m not a behavioral expert even in the slightest. But I do believe I have a keen sense of observation. And interestingly, from all my interactions with various people under various situations, I have found (empirically) that the true measure of a person’s character is how he/she reacts when encountered with failure. In fact, I would go as far as to say, that failure is not an event rather an emotion. I mean, we see very commonly that negative emotions trump positive ones in both, longevity and impact. So, when it comes to dealing with failure one’s mind can be occupied for a much longer time period reeling in the thought of “What could have been”. And each one of us tackles it in a different ways. After all, our individuality is a function of our response(s) to all these emotions, including failure. 

So, here’s my take. I believe that when faced with failure, there are only two routes that we can take. One – go into hibernation and hide in our shells. Take refuge of the oblivion until the damaging effects of our failures are allayed from “people’s” minds. This part of your personality is called a “Runway”. Two – we can go back into the wilderness and not give a fuck about what “people” think. We can get up, dust ourselves and fight our way back into the light. This alter ego of yours is called the “Fighter”. Now, like every other person, I have also faced quite a few failures in my life. Sometimes it was a decision gone wrong and sometimes it was not enough effort put on my part and well, sometimes Murphy just came out of nowhere (as he usually does) and kick me in the nuts and went away whistling. 

What did I do? Well, I have taken both routes. I have gone dark and I have fought. Both are extremely hard. Both are justified. But mimicking Belfort’s quote that I mentioned at the top, I have been a runaway and I’ve been a fighter. I have hated myself and I have pissed off people. And I would choose ‘Fighter’ every fucking day. Why? Well, let’s think about it. If you start hiding from the world, if you stop going to the college or your office, if you stop going to parties – how long do you think “people” are going to miss you? My dad always says, “People” does not have any identity. “People” does not have a name. And hence, they are not important than your own happiness.The memory of the masses is quite weak. And they cannot be satiated. In fact, honestly, they don’t give tiny rat’s ass to your problems. But, by taking the second route, you might make at least one person happy. You. 

Your choice. Choose wisely!

Nocturnal Serenity

In the dead silence of the fading night,

When stray dogs are on scavenging spree,

I wonder in the feeble lamp light,

For nights, I thank the powers that be.
When the world’s asleep, drowned in dreams,

Analog kisses unravel the lovers’ smiles,

In a time minus chaos and deafening screams,

They walk down the love road, the cupid’s mile.
Tiny pearls sprayed all over the black sky,

And the full moon floats amidst amorphous clouds,

When the zephyrs play with your entangled hair,

By this cosmic harmony, my head is bowed.

The haunting recurrence of the watchman’s call,

The shrilling moan of the hungry canine,

The rhythmic beating of a fulfilled heart,

When all it seems, the world is mine.

I switch off the lamp and the lovers now part,

The dogs scram away and the watchman yawns,

Its time for the birds and roosters’ tart,

So beautiful was night, not so charming is dawn.

The moon snugs back into the horizon,

The lake glitters by the morning ray,

As the wheel of life is set in motion ,

I just wish if I could have nights all day.

My experiments with the keyboard

Do not put state the negative form.
And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.

~ William Safire, “Great Rules of Writing”
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Whoever said ‘writing sets you free’ was a prize ass. There is, to me, nothing more arduous or mind-bendingly frustrating than sitting down in front of my laptop and attempting to churn out a simple piece of prose. I cannot simply hammer away at my keyboard or scribble on a sheet of A4, and emerge half an hour later freer, lighter, calmer. Nor am I capable of throwing down sentence upon sentence, abandoning form, flow and finish for a little skinny-dipping in the stream of consciousness.

It is, as far as I am concerned, bloody hard work. It is painfully slow, very tiring, and therefore, no fun at all. You celebrate the little victories, of course: the little turn of phrase that came out just right, the perfect metaphor that you’re sure you invented, the use of the appropriate punctuation mark, even. But until it is complete, and you are satisfied with the end product (or discard it outright), there is a gnawing vacuum, like a blocked ear that will not pop.

For long, I thought this was because my writing was not honest. I don’t write for myself, it’s always for The Reader. And very often, there is an involuntary attempt to give The Reader what he wants, to make him smile, frown, react. This playing to the gallery does not attempt to reproduce your inner self. It is showmanship, mere entertainment, and you are no more than a literary Humphrey Boggart.

But what does honesty have to do with anything? What is wrong with a little paperback promiscuity? And so what if it is hard work? The purpose, as far as I am concerned, is for it to be effortless, for what is written to seem like nothing more than a happy accident. And that, if you can remember the first time you clambered upon a bicycle, is not easy.

There is no point to this post. I was attempting to do precisely what I said I was incapable of. I was also trying to see if my powers of concentration were as rotten as I thought they were.

On both counts, I was right.

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