A trip to the doctors

I read somewhere, that a good way to improve your writing is to describe the mundane things that happen to you. I would need your help here. Yes the person sitting in the chair you are sitting in, some feedback would be nice. If you look down, some text boxes, yes anonymous is fine, paint it red (in a manner of speaking, of course).

Dad has not been walking too well. He prefers one leg to the other. We don’t know why, because he can’t tell us. He has dementia and although he goes at it with immense emotion, we can’t understand a word he says, that doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm though !

After sending appropriate mails to all those dependent on me, my boss (I wish) and my team (pause to control my mirth) and my fan-following (ahem, a little too far), I went to pick up dad and his nurse. In typical style, dad came round to the drivers seat, smiled at me and then looked suspiciously at the back door which was held open by the nurse. Then he started grumbling in the new language he has created for himself. At least it sounded like grumbling. He didn’t stop until I dropped him at the hospital, as I went to park the car.

Fortis has a nice spiral ramp to the parking area. Its a nice tight spiral and opens out to the roof on the top floor. Its usually full at this time, so I zipped to the top, hoping and praying that there would be place to park. As luck would have it the roof was empty. I had the pick of the parking spots. Should I take the corner spot for easy exit, or maybe the spot nearest to the lift. I was drooling over my choices when the parking attendant pushed me into a spot with the pillar just outside the drivers door. I had to exit the other side after climbing over the gear stick. Oh the ignominy of it all. I sulked all the way to the lift, looking lustfully at the closest parking spot as the lift doors closed.

My spirits rose again as I caught sight of dad with the nurse. He hadn’t stopped grumbling, though he could manage a smile when he saw me.

Things have changed in Fortis, they are building up. As a result we have to get to the hospital through the Air Conditioning/heating station, below the hospital. There are these huge storage cylinders, easily 12feet tall and a couple of feet in diameter, connected by pipes to our right. The steps we walk on run along one wall. The place is so large I can’t see the far wall, and its really murky in there. I can just imagine Gandalf fighting his way out after killing Balrog of morgoth.

The opd is full. The omnipresent lady with pram and two bawling infants is there. One of them is crying as usual while the other is playing truant. Dad takes all the chaos well and continues grumbling, possibly about all the new sources of annoyance now available. The old man quarreling with the receptionist is there too. Feels like some bizarre hospital patient’s reunion.

I am told to take a token from the machine on the wall. It has 2 buttons. One red, the other green. I suddenly realize that I am Neo. I get to choose. My reverie is abruptly stopped by the lady behind me coughing. Peasants, they will never know, I tell myself.

I choose the green pill, I mean button. Forty. That is the number that has been chosen randomly, especially for me. Wow, this number has been waiting in this machine just for me. My decisions in life have culminated in this number. I love it, then I wish it was 2 more. Damn you Douglas Adams.

Finally we see the doctor. Dad is a bit hesitant at first but ends up doing the flag march for the doctor, sans the salute of course. We are told to take x-rays.

Dad won’t sit still so we hold him in place. He fights it tooth and nail, so we stand there when the xray gun is fired. We step out to see a sign asking helpers to demand a protective apron. “Next time” I promise myself. Then in one of those moments that can only happen with dad around, he looks at both the nurse and I and gives us his profuse thanks. I guess all is in the well if the end is in the well.

Back to the doctor to show the reports. Barge in under orders of the receptionist. All is well. He is fine, nothing to worry. Phew.

The greener grass

My apartment is blessed to be surrounded by nature. Infact if you cross the road from our main gate, you would enter into the Bannerghatta National Park area. On the other side, the view from my living room balcony, there are 2 empty plots of a few acres each. Left empty for so long, the plots are covered with greenery and there’s also a small lake forming in the rockier part of the fields.

There are a few coconut trees, but the rest is covered in bushes and shrubs. The local farmers leave their cows in the field for grazing, and the shrubs have grown so tall and unruly that you can only see the heads of the cows nibbling the lush green foliage, while the rest of their body is hidden in the undergrowth.

When it rains the wet foliage glistens and the various green hues compete for attention. In between the leaves and grass a few yellow and white flowers make an appearance. They stand alone mostly or at most in twos, dancing in the wind, and their dancing partners, the bees, buzz around them like suitors at a ball.

Sometimes a cowherd chooses the shade of one of the coconut trees to take a nap. Using his white head cloth to cover his eyes, he lies down resting his head on the palms of his hands. Then he is gone, away from the cares of the world. Maybe he dreams of his home in the village, or the village girl with the coy smile who has stolen his heart. Maybe he dreams of some drunken revelry past, Ganesha festival madness maybe. Whatever it maybe, I doubt he dreams of financial freedom and an apartment overlooking a field, I think sarcastically, as I look on in envy enjoying his nap vicariously.

It is not important to win but it is important to fight.

We humans are at our best when we are fighting for something. Our greatest achievements are usually against insurmountable odds. Our greatest creations occur out of a deep desire to see something take shape, no matter, how fiercely the status quo repels it.

Or so it seems. Would the Michael Angelo on the roof of the Sistine chapel be as breathtaking if it was on the ground. Would a free India have been such an achievement if the British quietly left after the first world war?

It seems to me, our definition of “great work” is heavily biased by the struggle that precedes the achievement. Thus the malayalam refrain when judging common place work “any policeman could have done it”. Does that mean, doing a great thing is always a struggle during the fact, but is awesome post that. This logic pushes one, who wishes to achieve, to try harder, burn the midnight oil etc etc… With dubious results.

I think we need to rethink our definition of “Great achievement ” and the path to get there. Results should be judged on their own account. Take, for example, we are often told by our parents to work hard and climb the corporate ladder (“ravi uncles son has become manager”), but what is the achievement ? Is it breathtaking? Can you sit and watch the payslip for hours lying on your back ? Does it bring tears to your eyes like when you read that famous classic?

Separating the struggle from the result frees us a little bit to be creative about how to get there. Maybe just focus on the final product ? Is the world going to stand back breathless ?

TL;DR – Michael Angelo created “The Last Judgement” because he wanted to. The result is a master piece because it looks awesome and breath-taking. This is the truth. Anything else you add to this is an unproven story.

Progress ?

I installed Facebook messenger about 2 days ago. I can abashedly say that I was lured into it. One minute I was checking my notifications then I was downloading the app and I was all setup.

And wow. It was so beautiful, the little heads with such detailing sitting at the edge of your screen, moveable anywhere. Wow ! I was impressed. The default ring tone the table bell perfect.

After messaging a few must-message people (wife etc) I went back to Facebook. Back to the posts and posts about the Nepal quake.

Every day the death toll is rising. People putting their life on hold to help. Stories of heroism and sacrifice peppered with a few tales of selfishness. After all we are human. Peoples accounts of narrow escapes and morbid descriptions of the devastation right at my finger tips.

Awesome ! BUT wait a minute. Didn’t anyone know in advance? Most places know they are on a fault line ? Seismology is a thing rt ? People study it rt ? Shouldn’t someone have raised the red flag. What were those buildings made of ? Doesn’t Japan have seismic proof (multi-storeyed??) Buildings ? Why wasn’t that technology shared ?

Then I had a sinking feeling that the person who could have solved this problem maybe spending his life making smartphone apps ! Then I looked at myself, I spend my life pushing ones and zeroes around the internet.

Depressed, I logged off Facebook and went back to the work that pays me. I realized that money has so warped our incentives that survival of the species has taken the back seat. Its no longer the survival of the fittest. Its survival of the one who collects more Money. Your genes might allow you to live past 150 ! But it means jack sh#t if your parents don’t have the money for basic healthcare 🙂

If our little fantasy about money suddenly ends and its back to the farm for sustenance, I am not sure if the ability to make more money will translate into ability to thrive there.

Then I went back to work anyway. I mean humanity doesn’t pay me !

Going away

Bags are all packed, they are ready to go. Its not a sudden decision or a crisis to handle. Its a discussed, planned trip.

Tickets were booked much in advance after a number of discussions (arguments), delays and hoping. We have had a month to internalize this. Its a reality before it happens.

Its the morning of the travel day. My car packed up the day before. Through a series of events I am without a vehicle to office. We argue whether I should go to office at all. For some weird reasons I decide I Must go. She relents. I set off to work by public transport.

Thank god I fixed my phone. Reach work at 2 pm. Finish some work for an hour. They leave at 4. It will take 1 hr to reach home. I finally prise myself away from the screen at 3.20pm. I am wondering, no phone call yet ?

On a normal day, If I said I will reach by 6pm I get a call at 4.30 to make sure I leave. Today nothing.

Leaving everything incomplete I pick up my bike left at the office and scramble home. I reach 4.10pm. She is upset. “You don’t care that I am leaving”. I take the silent route.

My daughter is leaving as well. “Papa you come with me in airplane?” She asks. “No baby” I say thinking on my feet “But I will drop you to airport”.
“No papa you must come to airplane” she says in tears. These tears are worse than crocodiles.

The taxi is late. “I told you I would drop you” I say referring to a previously lost argument. “With no AC” she replies angrily.

Finally 4.30 pm our cab arrives. We sit. “Where’s your suitcase” my daughter asks. I begin to explain again that I won’t be coming , I tread carefully to avoid those crocodiles. Realizing the futility of words I pull out my phone and show her “Peppa pig” videos on YouTube. Danger averted.

As the journey continues my wife’s mood gets better, we talk again. Reached the airport hugs and kisses. They check in and leave.

I sit at the cafe, waiting to make sure they get through security OK or maybe its with the hope that they don’t. This is not how its supposed to be, I think to myself.

I am supposed to be excited about my new found week long freedom. I should be planning all the stuff I would do now they are not around to eat my time. But no, here I am wondering what to do, if anything at all.

Its when they leave that you realize how much of your internal system they take up. As much as they are obstacles to things you want to do, they are the motivation to do anything at all. As much as they are part of your constraints, they are the source of creativity as well. Life without them that you fantasized is actually unfathomable. It can’t exist in your present system. When it happens life just stops and nothing makes sense.

I look back at the events of the day and I see both of our internal systems trying to stop this journey. She not calling, me coming to office for an hour, not securing a cab, me hoping the flight didn’t take off. Even in the presence of our fantasized freedom, our internal systems didn’t want this trip to happen.

Maybe this is what it means to be 2 half’s of a whole.

The struggle to get to nothing

If I were to put a title to the past few months, the title of this piece would be it.

There are so many conversations out there in the world and one finds oneself either accepting them or rejecting them. This makes you this kind of person or some other kind of person in the eyes of the world. This branding is going on and people do it subconsciously. They drift, socially, towards people with similar thoughts and beliefs and distance themselves from those with other thoughts and beliefs. So much strife and I believe its all on account of language.

The fundamental issue I feel is lack of understanding of language. We use it every day externally, and internally it just goes on and on and on. Yet because we don’t understand language we end up being used by it.

because we don’t understand language we end up being used by it. 

Take the word terrorist, on one side it conjures up a picture of willful wrong-doing and condemn-able behaviour and on the other it conjures up a picture of sacrifice and martyrdom. Which one appeals to you depends on the memories and thoughts it conjures up.

It is this conjuring that is the problem. People have no control over it.

Consider the noun “Respect“. Why is it a noun? It doesn’t describe any physical thing.  It has no colour, no shape, no physical reality. (Try disrepecting a stone). But because we dont understand language we give it a reality.

If he says, this, this ,this we are respected, if he does that, that and the other we are disrespected. If disrespected we must protect our honour. How do we do that? We kill slaughter, shout abuse so on and so forth. Its like in that book “The curious incident of the dog in the night time” . The protagonist who is autistic, has a bad day (filled with low emotions and anxiety) if he sees more cars of a particular colour than another. Most people who read this book love it for its palpable description of autism, but what I liked about the book is its a description of the way each of our brains work.

We give reality to a bunch of sounds vibrated in a particular sequence. We give it enough reality to first feel sad and depressed and worst case get violent about it.

Language is a tool to describe things. Thats what its supposed to be used for! We need to stop being controlled by the description we give things.

All that said, its still tough to do though. I know that there are many areas where I still react to things that only exist in language. Getting to nothing certainly is not easy but for sure it makes life make a bit more sense.

Lost and Loving it…. (RIP Divakar Bari)

On 23rd July I was hunting for my form 16 from my previous company. They had’nt sent it to me yet and I was frantically calling old friends and colleagues in a desperate attempt to beat the deadline. One of the people I pinged was a junior who had worked with me – Divakar Bari. I reached out on skype and found out that it was his birthday. He replied the next day.

[7/22/2014 9:39:05 PM] Paramananda Ponnaiyan: Bari saar happy birthday
[7/23/2014 11:14:36 AM] Divakar Bari: Thank you Sirji.  You are indeed Awesome 🙂

Reminding me of a popular refrain I used to say (still do?) when I solve a hard problem. We chatted a little more about my form 16, he offered to approach the HR for the same. I then asked him, how he was doing.

[7/23/2014 11:15:35 AM] Divakar Bari: hehehehe ..
[7/23/2014 11:16:19 AM] Divakar Bari: nothin much on my end .. a lot of planning on some fronts .. gotta plan few years ahead.

I just got to know that he passed away on 8th August 2014. 15 days after this message.

When I look back on the short time I knew him, Divakar has to be the most frustrating young person I had the opportunity to work with. His very existence in the company I worked was a source of pain for me.

Divakar was not a good software engineer, atleast whatever I saw of his code left a whole lot to be desired. And yet, he survived for almost 2 years in the burning cauldron of a startup atmosphere. When he was working with me, I kept all the manual jobs for him. Things I could easily explain and he could execute. I like to think that he started showing some initiative. My boss was not happy though and put him on a performance improvement plan (PIP). Then in a quirk of fate there were layoffs in my team and Divakar’s improvement plan was forgotten so that he could start doing some of the work of people who had been laid off. Saved again.

I remember we used to have long talks on the nature of existence. Divakar did’nt think there was any reason to stress it. Even on PIP he used to be much the same as before. It was as if whatever the world did to him it would’nt change him. This irritated me. I wanted him to be ambitious, hard working, focussed. He did’nt care, didnt even feel the need to care. Life was a series of happy accidents he used to tell me. He didnt expect to get into my company, but got placed somehow from campus. He used to say that the recruiter made a mistake. Once in the company he enjoyed the experience but if he was going to lose it, he was ok with that too. He was sure there would be something more to enjoy over there too.

Maybe the close shave of PIP changed him. Not so much the PIP but being saved by fate changed him. Although we used to have a good laugh whenever I brought it up, I know that after the layoffs he worked a lot harder. That is also probably why he made that statement of planning for the future in the chat. If you know Divakar, that line is as alien as the Pope speaking in Hindi.

And just when he was turning a new leaf, wanting more from his life than what came his way, his life was taken away. Shakespeare could not have scripted it better.

I am left wondering, though, if he had’nt gone through that PIP, if he had’nt changed (if I (and others) had’nt tried to change him) would he have been happier for the few months of his existence?

It seems to me, Divakar, the earlier one, the untainted one, was right. There really is nowhere to run. The life we have is right now. Why suffer for a future that may not exist ? Why not just enjoy it as it is.

[ I hope noone is offended by what I have written, its just my way of paying tribute to a guy I enjoyed some time on earth with. I mean no ill feeling to anyone]