Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Getting Rid of Stale Relations

We are shifting house next weekend. Shilpi has been toiling night and day cleaning and packing. It's inspiring -- to put it mildly -- to see her do it so methodically. Sorting, packing, labelling. One particular thing she has been doing is both heart wrenching and overwhelming in its importance. She has been ruthlessly rejecting a lot of stuff that we had been carrying around only because of their emotion value: old notes, paper reprints, letters, cards, magazines, old clothes, pram, cradle etc. Our shifting will be simpler and lighter. Our new house will be more empty. If we decide to get new things to fill that emptiness -- good; if not -- even better.

Hm. What else can be thrown out, to make moving about and moving on easier?

I have been blessed to have got a large number of friends. But that's not been without hurts. I have met plenty of imposters who have simply occupied a space in my memory, and decided to go their own ways. Friendships which never happened don't hurt. I prefer strangers who meet you for a short while and go their own ways with no false promises. But there are those who would swear by their friendship if I met them. But to meet them, or get in touch, it would take me every ounce of my being. There are those from whom I have never heard, not with a single exception. And yet, when I have done the harder job of travelling long miles, negotiating complex schedules, to reach them, their only input to the relation has been an eloquent description of how much they treasure their friendship with me. They won't reply to my mails. They would never call. They would quietly visit my city and go without even calling. I would come to know of it through facebook. Change of jobs, birth and bereavement -- every major happening in their lives, I come to know from the grapevine, from the social networking sites. In some cases, I have even had friends moving in and living in the same city for years together, without bothering to communicate. Any voice raised on this matter would be quickly silenced with unquestionable excuse of busy-ness.

I too have decided to cut some of this crap out from my life. Crap that sits in my heart in the form of friendships and relations which have just occupied a corner of my memories without being a source of any gratification. 

In the end of the day, it's a thankless job to be seen as that harmless and patient friend who will always be there for you whether you care or not, year after year. Sometimes, even I would like to speak my mind, without thinking too much about my tone. Without gulping the very gist of my emotion in order to be politically correct. Last weekend, I liberated an imposter who had been swearing by my friendship for 13 years, but for sure had no place for me in his thoughts.

I feel happy and light! And please, don't ask me if I am counting you as one of them, just because you haven't been writing to me every week. :) I think, if you know me, you know me to do better than that. And yes. One advice. Preserve your friendships. But only the true ones. Send out Good-bye cards to the imposters. And live with light heart with space for new friendships.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ageing Meaningfully

The episode about the aging people in Satyamev Jayate touched upon many issues relevant to us all. Our changing attitude towards the aging people, the lifestyle changes resulting in more and more limited bandwidth to think about aging parents, the need to handle the fact that life expectancy in our country is on a rise etc. Hearteningly the episode had a very positive feel about it. More than talking about how the younger people should take care of the old, it dwelled a lot on how the older people can find a new meaning in their lives in the mature years. There were umpteem examples shown. A Dada-Dadi park in Mumbai where senior people meet, have fun, workout and involve in socially relevant activities. An old age home in Delhi whose residents actively participate in the running of a school in the same compound. An 80+ man going for a second marriage. A 90+ man climbing mountains etc. Two senior women from rural UP doing amazing things in shooting inspiring youngsters to try their hands in the sport. Amazing! I feel these people are setting such wonderful example for us all! They should be given Arjuna Award. They are the true sports-people.

If we look around , we all will find many such inspiring cases in our own neighbourhood. My wife has recently made acquaintance with an elderly lady in our locality here. She takes time out to teach Kannada to North Indians, and Hindi to South Indians. She organises satsangs for the elderly population of our apartment complex, and summer activity sessions for children in the building. She has this interesting hobby of honey culture, and has many interesting facts to share about the medicinal qualities of wild honey. She speaks with tremendous positive energy and enthusiasm. Outwardly, she is just like any other senior person in the complex; but in reality, she is always bubbling to do something good in the lives that surround her. Quite in contrast to most other much younger ladies in our complex who meet up in the play area in the evenings, mostly to show off their new accessories, or to vent bitter thoughts about their mothers-in-law. All in all, a simply adorable and inspiring character!

Why should the latter years of one's life be filled with loneliness, idleness, disease, poverty, helplessness and self-pity? The experience and wisdom gained through the entire life, isn't that a very potent tool for continuing to live a meaningful life post retirement?

Yet, in most cases, including in my own family, we haven't been setting the best of examples. For example, there's plenty of socially relevant stuff to do around our place back in Nagpur. There are these slums nearby, with loads of social issues plaguing them. There are kids to teach. Women to be empowered. Men to emancipated from alcoholism. Sanitation to be improved. There's our colony premises to improve and beautify. The colony, with its 100+ families, needs elaborate management to become an interesting and vibrant residential area. There are new things to learn. There's plenty of opportunity to engage in group workouts. Most importantly, more than half of them have recently retired people, similarly aged as my parents, with all the time in the world to take up new challenges. Barring a few, most appear to be in tolerably good health. However, nothing happens! Our colony is an awfully lifeless place. Bushes and weeds grow in the park which was meant for children to play. Roads await alms from the Gram Panchayat for repairs, while funds from the colony treasury are squandered. Obviously, the slums surrounding our colony have seen no perceptible change in all these years as benefit of being located in the neighbourhood of a relatively better off colony.

I have tried suggesting to my parents and other elders about exploring outside the four walls of the house for business, occupation and meaning. However, my attempt hasn't been met with much acceptance. In particular, on being approached on this matter, my mother talks about her self-professed ignorance about matters beyond domestic. My father spews bitterness for Panchayat and neighbours, but steadfastly refuses to try doing anything positive in the matter.

What prevents senior people from getting up and taking a step towards making their senior years more eventful? It's not failing health for most; nor sapping energy. It's the inability to question the way they have led their lives so far. How have they lived their lives? By toiling and slogging for such 'noble' reasons as family welfare. For them, the singlemost reason for having worked hard all their lives is the well-being of their families. The man earns; the woman looks after the household. The side-effect of this attitude is that they never discover any other reason to work hard all their long lives. Once the children grow up and become self-dependent, they see no reason to continue working. To start all over again looking for a new reason to work requires revisiting the very reason for work. It can't be family welfare. Then? Some of them try to look at it as a way to pass time. Some simply just continue doing it as a means of subsistence. The only way most people in our country – particularly in the service class – deal with work is just by putting up with it.

The idea of enjoying one's occupation is alien for most of our lower middle class. Most people, even in the younger generation, would look at you with incredulity if you talked about spending most of one's energy in things one enjoys, as if the thought is a blasphemy against the ideal of sacrificing one's interests for one's family. For people who have pretty much lived out their lives not taking their interests and passions seriously, it's a huge challenge to ponder over them now in the twilight hours. All gloomy thoughts of curtains coming down before they would ever start probably paralyses them. Perhaps, the thought of starting to live life on a completely new philosophy which pretty much trashes away the ones they had followed all their lives is like nullifying the entire past. The attachment to one's past, particularly when it's so long and rich, may drive one to committing such a folly of not letting in the future.

Past is gone, dead – however prolonged; future is alive – however brief. It's illogical to cling to a corpse and shirk a living thing. Moreover, it's normal for humans to encounter events which nullify years of earning, whether material, intellectual or emotional. Such events aren't necessarily tragic. Often they are windows to a brighter view of life and world. So, questioning thoughts, emotions and ideals which we have kept for years, should be an acceptable and regular thing to do, particularly if that opens doors to a better life and self. May be one has spent his entire life giving preference to self-sacrifice over self-fulfilment. Why can't that change in the mature years if it's found to be a folly?

I would appreciate inputs on how senior members of the family can be motivated and mobilised to take a renewed interest in life, to have courage to question the past ways of living and start afresh, to have the faith that life needn't ever be turned into a few more leftover morsels to be thrown into the bin, but to its last moment can stand for something meaningful and divine.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Scientist or Engineer

During my first year in engineering, I was quite distressed by the way we were being taught how to solve differential equations. Just the method : all that CFs and PIs. And then how polynomials got constructed by replacing the differentials (d/dx) by D's. And then you could treat them as polynomials in D, factorise them, and solve the monomials by integration. There wasn't even a hint given as to why it was to be done that way. It wasn't absolutely the first instance when no one seemed to be concerned about telling us why we were doing something, but this was the first time that I remember when I felt that I would probably not be able find the answer to my 'why's without the help of the teacher. I asked a more toned down question in the class that wouldn't make it appear as if I was questioning the very method of teaching. That question got killed by the teacher without much difficulty. My 'why', however, remained unanswered.

There was a discussion between classmates after the lecture where I got a more open atmosphere to voice my doubt. One of my friends reprimanded me, 'If you are so concerned about maths, why didn't you do a math degree? You are here to become an engineer. You are supposed to be a user of maths. Just use it. Don't get lost in its details.' I found his stand a fairly matured one for our age. It had a point of view that I had never considered. In my opinion, I considered myself no different from a science student. My friend seemed to say that there was already too much engineering to learn. We would eventually have to stop at some point of granularity. My friend seemed to have found out where he would stop. I hadn't. I felt respectful about him for this feat. I couldn't, however, figure how I would use this approach to my benefit. There came a spate of topics during our engineering studies that got told to us like revelations of a mystic: Fourier analysis, Laplace transforms, z-transforms etc. Just use them and don't ask questions about their internal mechanics. The bag of doubts I carried by the end of my undergraduate studies had grown quite heavy! I would look at many of my friends with a sense of envy when I found that they were superbly proficient in many an engineering tool they had no clue about the concepts of. They would top university exams while I would struggle to pass; they would learn several things while they were fashionable -- they were tech savvy, while I would struggle with the simple ideas they seemed to be based upon. I didn't know how to stop the claws of curiosity from gnawing at my heart, and yet I had no clue how I could quench it.

I really don't want to go on and on. Dale Carnegie said that you should start your talk -- or whatever -- with a story to hold the attention of the audience. So frankly, the above was a cheap trick I played to hold your attention till I got to the point. And my point is nothing. Just a few questions. What's this thing about engineering and science? I understand that there's just too much to understand and learn. Knowing all of them isn't either useful or possible. Then? Where do we stop? Is it a good idea to be absolutely utilitarian in such things? As long as you can work out the solution of a differential equations, is it OK not to understand how the solution works? As long as you can compute the poles and zeros of the control system you are designing, is it OK not to bother what really these poles and zeros really are?

I don't understand this topic. It's a big muddle in my head. But I understand that it's an awfully important topic to talk about. I wish someone better qualified than me would write on this subject. I would definitely like to read it, without the lure of a story as an opener.