Routine

Ahmet Altan, born in 1950, is one of Turkey’s most important writers. In the purge following the failed coup in July 2016, Altan was sent to prison pending trial for giving “subliminal messages” in support of the coup. In February 2018 he was sentenced to life in prison without parole for attempting to overthrow the government. Fifty-one Nobel laureates have signed an open letter to President Erdogan calling for Altan’s release. Altan is the author of seven essay collections and ten novels.

In a translated version of his memoirs, the importance of freedom, not the freedom intellectuals talk about, but the freedom that people like us take for granted in leading our day to day lives, has been so beautifully depicted that it shook my heart. On his way to prison, following his arrest by security forces, Ahmet describes the following

It is said that the dead do not know that they are dead. According to Anatolian mythology, once the corpse is placed in the grave and covered with dirt and the funeral crowd has begun to disperse, the dead person also tries to get up and go home, only to realize when he hits his head on the coffin lid that he has died.

When the door closed, my head hit the coffin lid.

I could not open the door of that car and get out.

Never again would I be able to kiss the woman I love, embrace my kids, meet with my friends, walk the streets. I would not have my room to write in, my machine to write with, my library to reach for. I would not be able to listen to a violin concerto or go on a trip or browse in bookstores or buy bread from a bakery or gaze on the sea or an orange tree or smell the scent of flowers, the grass, the rain, the earth. I would not be able to go to a cinema. I would not be able to eat eggs with sausage or drink a glass of wine or go to a restaurant and order fish. I would not be able to watch the sunrise. I would not be able to call anyone on the phone. No one would be able to call me on the phone. I would not be able to open a door by myself. I would not wake up again in a room with curtains.

Our daily lives, which we choose to call as boring routine or rigmarole are so very important and crucial to our existence. There are many who having nothing worthwhile to do post requirement and they just go into their shells inviting troubles like dementia. They just become vegetables, burden on their families. We have to have a routine, hobbies, interests, in short a zest to live life or what we routinely call “routine”.

Security in this unsecured life

The typical middle class milieu is – studies ( preferably to become a doctor or engineer), followed by a good job, marriage, children and to live life happily thereafter. In job, one is expected to work hard, get promotions, accumulate money and assets, get freedom from all one’s liabilities, including repayment of loans and marriage of one’s children before retirement and then happily live life in old age on retirement benefits.

But seldom the life’s script goes on the desired lines. One faces trial and tribulations at each stage of one’s life – when IIT or MBBS entrance exam is not cleared, when admission to St. Stephens , St. Xavier or Presidency is denied, when instead of PO, one has to start in clerical cadre, when promotion is delayed, leading to delay in buying car or home, when children perform below expectations, when suddenly a debilitating ailment affects one or his/her near or dear and such instances of intended script going awry are numerous!

Currently, in the face of recession and transition, several employees and workers are facing job cuts and attrition. There are worries on outstanding loans, children not settled, impending liabilities, stoppage of income flow, no new jobs in the market etc. People are worried and scared as they are fearing eviction from their respective comfort zones. The security that a cushy job with fixed income gives one is matchless in its scope of giving happiness in life.

In the above scenario, one looks at God and his messengers to understand the philosophy that explains such uncertainties affecting our lives. Read a beautiful message from the great Mahatria, whom I quote quite often, being totally inspired by his teachings that have relevance for the situations arising in our day to day life. It says:

Life itself is not secure. Then, where is the question of security within life?

In searching for security, don’t get transfixed to your comfort zones.

Your comfort zone becomes your prison, a prison within which your potential stays locked up.

No situation should be viewed as if it heralds end of life, because life has this strange penchant for giving surprises when everything seems to have been lost, the only requirement being that zest for the life should never be lost. There’s an old Punjabi folk song whose opening lines can be loosely translated as:

Can’t bear your separation oh dear,

Romance of rains is being missed

For losing your job of 2 cents your heart is full of fear!!!

Given the uncertainties, nothing in life, save the life itself, is more than worth of 2 cents. We should all seek the sense of security in the Greater human sitting somewhere up in the sky, rather than a person temporarily wielding power.

Easier said than done

The title of the blog is inspired from 1963 song by the Group The Essex ” Easier Said Than Done”

Yesterday I lost my mobile. Think left it in the cab. 10 minutes later, when I remembered about the missing phone and tried calling my number from another phone, the phone was coming switched off. This being the 4th instance of mobile phone loss I deservingly got an earful from my wife for being so absent minded and careless ( citing 10 other acts of my nonchalance). Being an avid believer in the teachings of Bhagvad Gita, I tried to overcome the grief for material loss ( an I Phone is a damn expensive toy, advance model costing a fortune), by taking solace from the teachings of the great epic on dealing with the loss. It says, ” why grieve the loss? What had you brought with you that you’re lamenting the loss of? Whatever you have you got here only and you will be leaving here only taking nothing with you!”. I immediately connected to this great learning. Indeed, I hadn’t brought this I phone from my mother’s womb! In fact, nobody had imagined about mobile phones when even landline was a luxury! I had got my phone only here (not strictly in Mumbai but from Singapore, but both are in any way part of this world only) and have lost it also here only! But I must admit that this solace was mometary, the grief and worry overwhelming me considering the loss of data and record and their possible misuse! Banking App, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and tens of several other apps all vanishing into thin air! Forget misuse, recreating all this in itself is going to be a humongous task and I am no tech savvy having saved data on cloud for retrieval! All this angst brought out the poet in me, leading to the composition of the following poem:

Why should one cry

At the loss of material things ;

It’s an established rule of the universe

Nothing is constant and paupers do become kings.

But the material loss is not merely

The loss of material;

In the material lies

All our bearings that are ethereal .

When I lost my I phone

I just didn’t lose a small bit

With it I lost all my identity, numbers

That in fact was my very survival kit!

I have got a new cheaper version of a mobile phone and I am treating it dearer than my life and hope I lose it only when I lose my life!!!!

Loss is purely country’s

The call of our motherland can be emotionally very impactful for non resident Indians (NRIs) and persons of Indian origin (PIOs). Many techies, bankers, engineers and other professionals have chosen to let go of their cushy and well-paid jobs to serve their motherland. Several of them looked for no means of earning here but to purposefully spend all the fortune that they have made while working overseas. These people deserve a salutation from their fellow countrymen for this selfless act of theirs.

However, there are several others whose services are specifically sought by the country when the inbred talent is not available. Arvind Subramanian, Arvind Panagariya, Raghuram Rajan and the new Chief Economic Advisor Krishnamurthy Subramanian belong to this group. Even the current RBI Governor Urjit Patel, who has decided to quit before expiry of his tenure had his lifetime spent outside the country.

To hire. attract or yearn for such talent is one thing and to nurture, respect and make their best use is altogether another thing! Raghuram Rajan is considered to be one of the best central bankers not only this country has ever produced but all other financial powers also considered. Some of his steps set the long term path for the betterment of the economy and banking in this country. An erudite economist with clear views, age was on his side and the country could have utilised his services for several more years. However, that was not to be for probably the Government felt him to be too intelligent and independent and he decided to return to academia soon after completing his term. Arvind Subramanian also had it enough and returned to teaching in US. Arvind Panagariya was always an academician and after some pathbreaking work here, he too called it quits to return to teaching in US. Not yet clear on future plans of Urijit Patel, but given his recent acrimony with Ministry of Finance bigwigs, his services are unlikely to be available to the nation at least in near future. Let’s see how long the new Subramanian lasts?

Every year thousands of engineering and management graduates leave Indian shores in search of greener pastures abroad. However, several of them after achieving excellence in their respective field and making enough money do look at the prospects of serving the underprivileged in their motherland. But this nation that is endowed with the best of the talent are also gifted with not so talented political and bureaucratic creed that can go to any extent to serve their own selfish interests that are always above the welfare of the country they are elected/appointed to serve. However, this apathy of politicians and bureaucrats towards this special talent, hopefully, will not bother thousands of returning Indians who don’t need anything from official machinery but who are in pursuit of what their conscience tells them to be! We ordinary Indians still treat guests as “Athiti Devo Bhava” though these are not even guests but our own sons and daughters whom our politicians and bureaucrats may not need but this country badly needs!

Loss of tooth

My father was a very virtuous, righteous man who lived a very principled and frugal life. I do not seem to have inherited much of his virtuosity or righteousness for I am quite materialistic, selfish, ambitious and money minded. However, I do seem to have inherited some of his negative traits. He greyed at a rather young age and also lost his teeth by the time he entered his 50s. I started greying at a rather young age but for years used henna to colour my hair till one day after an objection by somebody close, I decided to give up colouring. In few days, the after effects of henna wore off and I had milky white hair much to my wife’s displeasure, who is young, petite and very pretty. However, I have resisted colouring my hair again, reconciled to rather oldish looks. While I had almost learnt to live with grey in my pate, yesterday’s incident has completely shaken me. About a decade ago, I had a few shaking teeth and but for the medical breakthrough that fixed my teeth using latest technology, I would have bettered my father’s record of having artificial teeth. While the surgery served me well for about a decade, a few weeks ago, I had a shaking molar. My doctor, a humble and rather conservative lady, suggested me to continue with the condition rather than going in for extraction, as the tooth was otherwise not giving me any trouble. I hoped against the hope that the shaking tooth might stop shaking and fixed itself again, though my doctor had ruled out such an eventuality. Yesterday, the tooth finally came out creating not only a vacuum in my mouth but also in my life! I fear the loss of remaining teeth too though my doctor assures me that it will not happen so soon. I have always looked forward to ageing gracefully, retiring from job and pursuing my hobbies and interests in the next innings of my life, but I could hardly foresee the fringe elements of old age – pains, wrinkles, hair and above all teeth ! The only reprieve is that I was never a tiger – that honour had always been with my wife – so nobody would call me a toothless tiger!

Twins

When I think of twins, being a cricket aficionado, the first term that comes to my mind is “terrible twins”. This relates to early 80s when two fearsome fast bowlers of West Indies, Colin Croft and Joel Garner were wreaking havoc on the batsmen by bowling immensely fast paced deliveries in tandem!

Fast forward it to 1988, the year I got married. Incidentally, my wife is also a twin, her other sibling being her sister who is located in Singapore! When my then to be wife mentioned about her twin first , in a flash the faces of terrible twins came to my mind, an impression that was to be short lived! The moment I saw my wife and her twin together, my impression of twins changed forever from “terrible twins” to “beautiful twins”. Now even if above 6 feet tall , strongly built fast bowlers make pulp of world batsmen by shooting 150 km/hour plus deliveries at them, my view of them would always be beautiful and not terrible!

I wish these twins, Neena and Veena a very happy birthday on 12th November (the year is immaterial as both are ageless wonders) ! May their glamour enchant the beautiful and historic cities of Singapore and Mumbai and they make this world a better place to live with their empathy for all the destitute of this world!

Skilled specialist

Today’s age is the age of skilled specialists. While we all along had people skilled in their trades- carpenter, plumber, fitter, electrician, nurse, doctor, architect etc are all examples of trades that require specialised skill- the reference is more appropriate for jobs requiring multiple skills such as civil services or banking. Earlier, a graduate civil servant would be a revenue secretary or planning commission deputy chairman or in stray cases even RBI Governor towards the end of his career. Similarly a graduate banker, mostly joining as a teller or clerk would rise in the cadre to Head credit, treasury or risk functions. We used to call him a General Banker- a jack of all ( I would refrain from using second part of this saying as some of them proved to be pioneers having written reference books on their domains) , who would provide flexibility to the top management to be used anywhere from admin to treasury!

However, increasingly the last of the bastions of the generalists are falling to skilled specialists, more noticeably civil services and banking. We recently read about the Government contemplating lateral recruitment of professionals into civil services. Banking in any case is today more about IT rather than pure banking and with robotics and artificial intelligence next big disruptions, I see general bankers becoming redundant over the next decade or so! It’s not only heads of IT and Law, but several other domains such as HR, Marketing, Product development etc that have industry professionals heading them rather than traditional bankers.

Is no specialised skill also a skill? Is there any importance or value assignable to practical knowledge, experience or first hand exposure to a domain or subject? Actually, the idea of writing this blog struck me while reading my favourite cartoon strip “Blondie” in today’s newspaper. Bumstead is appearing specially cheerful while going to office and his wife Blondie asks him the reason. He replies, “whenever anyone in office makes a real dumb move, the boss says they’ve pulled a Bumstead!” Blondie tells him that this isn’t exactly a compliment to which he remarks, ” May not be in the traditional sense, but it’s the first time I’ve ever had a skill named for me.” Sometimes even innocuous cartoon humour can have such underlying meaning that it can hit you hard!

My wife my companion-2

In continuation, as I covered in Part 1, how the excitement of freedom would last only a couple of days before I started missing her presence. Another feeling that has neither got changed nor diluted over the last 30 years is the countdown to her return. It’s the same feeling, when she went to her parents’ place the first time 30 years ago. I longed to have her back and this yearning has not diminished a wee bit 30 years since then! I wait for her to come back by cleaning up all the mess that gets created over her period of absence . I make the house tidy, things prim and proper in their original respective place, clothes laundered and ironed, refrigerator and kitchen fully provisioned leaving virtually nothing for her to worry! It’s been so long but everything looks so fresh and recent. I think it’s all in the mind. As long as heart is young and mind curious and eager, this cycle of my wife my companion leaving me for small sojourns, exciting me initially, depressing me after initial euphoria and then exciting me again agog with expectation of her arrival back in my life will continue unabated and unaffected by age and vintage. It’s a truly amazing feeling.

My wife my companion

My wife has been my companion for more than last 30 years. After marriage we have never lived in a joint family so we have been the sole companion of each other. In between our daughter demanded our attention, but soon she grew up to be independent and she has now been married for last couple of years living in Johannesburg. This makes us each other’s sole companion for rest of our lives.

We are complete in ourselves. We do most of the chores ourselves and also like each other’s company. We don’t need anybody whether it is any major work (house shifting) or pure enjoyment ( going places). In fact, we have been together around the globe and intend to cover more as we grow older and more free.

Yeah, like in all relationships, sometimes we also want space. So I look forward to her annual month long sojourn to Singapore, where her sister stays. I start planning all that I would be doing while she is away – catching up on my reading, planning boys’ bash at home or just roam around the streets of Mumbai, especially South Mumbai, gorging on delicacies such as Maska Pao, Berry Pulao, Kheema Pao at Mumbai’s iconic and historic places. I also plan catching up on my sleep especially over the weekends.

However, hardly 2-3 days into her absence, I start missing her presence at home. There’s no one to share morning cup of hot tea over discussion on major headlines in newspaper or for that affectionate see off to the office. Lonely house on return haunts me. Of course, no one to serve the most sumptuous food is a major deprivation for a gastronome like me. Boys’ night out is one off, while reading becomes monotonous after first few days! For going to South Mumbai, inertia has to be overcome, which is becoming increasingly difficult with age. And as regards sleep, I develop insomnia. It’s just about a fortnight into her this year’s annual sojourn, I am awake like an owl at the unearthly hour of 3.30 am penning this blog, having hardly caught a wink or two over the entire night!

I surely miss my wife, my companion!