This picture, a screaming half-page on the Times of India, announced that Gujarat, the state that Gandhi hailed from, was burning. Religious sentiments, fueled by political expediency, had erupted into a massacre.

I’ve never forgotten this picture – it has burned into my memory like a horse’s branding. This is the image that comes to my mind when I think of fear.

What drives people to do in a mob what they wouldn’t do by their own, killing one another by the dozens? A sense of security in numbers? Disregard for life? For themselves? For others?

I find it fascinating that the things we are taught when as children, things that become a habit knit part of our lives, things we take for granted when we think, never questioning, always assuming – these same things could be so wrong & destroy us & the world around us.

A great example would be Earth itself. Until someone came along & challenged the contemporary thinking, Earth was the centre of the universe. The Church convicted Galileo a heretic & sent him to the gallows for questioning its authority. Only a few hundred years later, we take this so much for granted.

Unquestioned following of authority, external or internal, could be possibly one of the best ways of chaining oneself to a position. When the assumption breaks down, as it no doubt will, a whole life suddenly appears to be fake & without any value or purpose.

Which possibly explains mid-life crisis: throughout one’s life, everyone is after what everyone else is after. With no real knowledge of either oneself or one’s purpose, we sail through life accepting that money equals happiness, rich equals good, more or bigger is better & so on. One fine day, however, it suddenly breaks down – it could be the death of a loved one, a heart attack, the loss of a limb in an accident, being made redundant.

What drives you to do what you do? Have you examined your motives? Are they your own? Or are they like second-hand smoke, something you have picked up from someone you may or may not know?  These are some of the questions that I’ve been asking myself, & the answers are startling. You might want to do this questioning yourself. After all, what good is a mind, if we don’t use it to think for ourselves?

Insights

Business-speak for a presentation of information of something that is taken for granted.

I read today that we count our life in years, & live them in days, hours & moments.

Early this morning, as I meditated, a thought floated in – (isn’t that amazing, how thoughts FLOAT IN??) – a memory actually, of my first paid employment at a garment retailer. I was contracting for the inventory accountant who was on leave. The job involved compiling, understanding & reporting of the Work-in-Progress account. My predecessor showed me the intricacies involved – using  MS Access reports to fetch the information, spending a couple of days formatting the gazillions of rows of data, & then performing the analysis required.

It somehow seemed wrong to me that computers would actually make work harder – (read “a couple of days formatting the gazillions of rows of data”) – & my predecessor was the in-house expert on this task. The thought continued, & instead of getting straight on at the task (I was warned against delaying any of the reporting requirements), I walked up to the database administrator, a person I had befriended at the coffee machine, & told him what I was thinking about.

His response both excited & shook me – he gave me an “insight – how the database application used a query to convert the raw data into information, & then created a “soft-on-the-eye” report – great to read, but of no use whatsoever to someone who had to work with it to analyse the data.  He showed me how to get the report, cutting down my work tasks by a full two days! The time saved I used to learn more about how to create those queries, & how databases really worked, etc…

My insight: In life, as at work, cosmetics are good only up to a certain point. I’m better off investing time understanding the fundamentals & learning to apply them than simply spending time doing what others have done before, without questioning. The easy way is always there – I simply have to find it.

Courage

Courage is the mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.

Feel the fear & do it anyway.

I’m not thinking of courage to go into war, or fighting aliens, or some monster being that is about to destroy the world. No, that isn’t the courage I’m talking about at all.

I’ve been watching my little “I’m-almost-4-years-old” daughter at very close quarters of late. In the last month or so, our relationship has taken on a depth I’ve never truly felt, except for the first couple of months of her life, after watching her be born.

I’ve been inspired by the courage she’s shown in doing things that sometimes terrify me. Like simply walking up to a person she’s seen & met for the first time, & saying thank you for letting her pet the horse. & then having a conversation about horses & their hair & her hair & dogs & whatnot.

I am beginning to understand what the phrase “Child is the father of man” means. Innocence, I think, is unadulterated. I’m beginning to think that the word – adulterated – refers to something spoiled by adults. But again I digress.

Fear is something we learn as we grow older – fear of people, fear of solitude, fear of poverty, fear of … the list can be longer / taller than Robert Wadlow.  Yet, as children, we’re unblemished – what we fear we have learnt from our surroundings – parents, peers, siblings. Fear is the external world’s way of control over something that is otherwise uncontrollable. & most of us fall for it.

Most I said. I will devote this week to look for & post stories that are in the news, of people who have summoned up the courage to do things – not necessarily earth-shattering or record-setting events, rather, of people who to me appear worthwhile emulating for their every-day courage.

mobile pains

Ok, so a million letters have been typed about telephone etiquette.

I have my $0.02 worth.

Literacy or social position doesn’t educate a person. The lady on the train today was a classic example. A senior manager in a well-known organization, she is well-traveled, & is in charge of a fairly large team of people & manages a multi-million dollar budget. How do I know? Well, she practically told the entire compartment during the course of her several conversations on her “smart-phone’! No wonder they call them smart-phones now, the users definitely aren’t!

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Skimmed through a book yesterday at the library. Began with the words “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Brought back  a flood of memories for me.

A question that is asked of kids by grown ups who have already given up or are nearly there on their own childhood dreams.

Growing up in a middle class family, with middle class ideas & middle class company & middle class habits, necessarily meant that every child in the vicinity of the adults would forever be asked the dreaded question: what do you want to be when you grow up? I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. Heck, I thought being a child was so much fun, I wanted to stay a child as long as I could!

We quickly learnt to say what the grown ups wanted to hear – there were only 2 right answers – “Doctor” or “Engineer”. What joy on the parents’ faces! My son/ daughter wants to be a Doctor! Engineer! Never mind that the only thing he had already specialised was in doctoring the monthly bulletin of academic mediocrity – the exam marks card.

Occasionally a bonehead among us would say something silly like a truck driver, or a plumber, electrician, or even possibly a pub owner. Yeah, the unspeakable professions!  I remember a story of a Catholic nun who was in charge of 10-year-old Sunday school who asked the kids the famed question – “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. She received a collection of politically correct answers – doctor, engineer,astronaut, pilot, etc.  From all except Sarah, who believed the way to riches was to be a prostitute. “What? What did you say you wanted to be?” The nun couldn’t hide her horror. “Prostitute”, repeated Sarah, who held some strong views about her intended profession. “Ah, thank God”, says the relieved nun, ” I thought you said you wanted to be a Protestant”.

Anyway, socially humiliated, the unfortunate parents of the unfortunate fellow would hang their heads in shame, perhaps ask the parent of one of the potential “doctor” to speak to the son in the hope that he would be transformed by eloquent words. Not before, however, he got a dose of the family’s traditional medicine concocted specially to treat these growing up ills – a few strokes of treated hide against the untreated one on his backside. It could sometimes be thin branches of the tamarind tree, known for its bitterness – whether  eaten or beaten. Corporal punishment at its best! Or worst. Depending on which side of the stick you were on.

I’m older now, with a child of my own. I find myself sometimes asking the stupid question to her – what do you want to be when you grow up? & then remember, how silly of me! I still don’t know what I want to be, forget her! Maybe when she turns 35, I will ask her?

Change.

There’s an adage in my mother tongue, Konkani, that goes something like – the chap who didn’t know to dance says the grounds are uneven. Loosely parallels the sour grapes story.

Events in the last few days brought this to fore several times in my observation of people.  Change is terrifying. There are restrictions that people place on themselves about what they can & can’t do, should & shouldn’t do. One’s defined by their own self-esteem, the other to maintain social appearances.

The cliche that change is the only constant may have been used & abused – but change is most unacceptable to a vast majority of us. Let me give an example – we rarely give any thought to the position in which we sleep – it is a habit-knit part of our life. Or notice yourself when you brush your teeth – try brushing with the other hand instead! Missing your regular train to work. Any of the things we take for granted. Do we adapt? Yes. Are we happy about it? Most certainly not!

How do you embrace change?

Look around us. Nature gives the best example. Isn’t that what we are? Part of nature?

or are we?

Powerpivot

Very excited about the reporting capabilities built into Office 2010 beta..
Trying to familiarize myself with it .. tried installing PowerPivot. Seems you must have XP SP3 pre-installed (not documented in the help files) before you installed Project Gemini.

I’m still waiting for my SP3 updates to complete…

Rights. or is it right?

I read an interesting article yesterday here, the results of a poll that suggests that over 80% of the 27000 people who were part of the survey from all over the globe, suggest that the Net is a “Fundamental Right”.

My idea of fundamental rights was a list of some words that you had to memorize, & be able to recite to pass your school exams. I can’t remember one fundamental right or duty enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Or any other country’s constitution for that matter.

I began to think as I write this if I know what I hold to be my own fundamental rights, my private Constitution. I struggle with the  thought, but here’s a feeble attempt:

  1. Right to decide what to do with my life & discover my own destiny.
  2. Right to enjoy life & all that it has to offer
  3. Right to learn more about anything that catches my fancy.
  4. Right to my personal beliefs, & to change them.

This list is by no means comprehensive, & is something I have consciously set out to discover. I realize that these Rights also come with Duties or Action.

My personal role model, Ben Franklin had a list of 13 virtues he attempted to live is life by (you can read about them here), which he had a very interesting way of tracking. In his autobiography, he mentions how he would try to live each one of them for one week. Over the course of 52 weeks, he would have tried (& his achievements & life tells us he mostly succeeded) each one of them four times, he also tells us he tracked his results very diligently for quite a long period. (Reminds me to read the book once again, I don’t seem to recollect some important details!)

Stertor

It was a warm day.

The air was thick & sticky, like a bowl of porridge.

The train was packed with people heading back home. Some kept fanning themselves to cool down. Others tried to get busy with their books or iPods or computers. Minds were feeling as dull as the heat that numbed it.

Then suddenly came the staccato of machine gun fire. Jerked into action. Those unfortunate enough to be seated at the windows ducked for cover. Everyone else did too, not wanting to get a stray bullet in their ear.

The firing continued. People peering from their hiding places. Nearly everyone had ducked. Most were safe.

Most, except one young, bearded fellow. Had dark glasses on. Well dressed. Polished shoes. Head leaned against the window. Unmoving.  Was he hurt? Did he get the gunfire? Where is he hurt? Do we need to pull the chain & stop  the train?

& then came the sound again. Louder this time. The silence in the train car was deafening. Were they following someone? Everyone was looking out the window, trying to identify where the tanks & guns were.

Attention went back to the young fellow. He was breathing. Deeply & regularly.

Sleep is a wonderful drug. Snoring isn’t!