Friday, February 9, 2018

To Measure Off Another Day (Letters to Parth - 20)

Dear Hardyk, my pixel, my frames per second,

You are a big boy now, reading big books, thinking big thoughts, and asking big questions. These years are very important since you go from being a big boy to being a man. That comes with a lot of troubling changes. I used to hate it when I was your age and people would tell me oh how you have grown, what a big boy you have become. You start seeing yourself and your place in the scheme of things differently, and realize that school and studies, picnics and festivals, pride and prejudice are not what real life is made of. Like a wart that will not go away, they are part of life, and you will be gasping for the air that you know is out there, the air of being an adult, free to do what you want. Being treated like the big boy you are will sometimes feel suffocating. You will sometimes wonder how anyone can survive the hypocrisy of society. You will want to change everything, save the world, put sense into the heads of everyone. All of us have had to go through this time of coming to terms with the way things work. Growing up can be full of surprises, surprises that you don't see coming, sometimes surprises that you don't see till you are past them.

I have never been very fond of surprises, and usually get very uncomfortable even with the nicest of surprises. Life has its own courier service to deliver the packages we need the most. Even when you are not ready for a package, it is assuring to remember that life knows us better than we do our selves. At home, we keep reminding ourselves how fortunate we are to be at the mercy of the law of cause and effect. If we had a say in things, or if we were in charge, we can only imagine how big a mess life would have been.

When we get to unwrap the package, sometimes, we do not like what we see. Some of us experience anger and bitterness, while others view it as fate or destiny or a curse by the powers that be. Some others believe that we actually choose our packages, living out promises made in unfathomably distant past, many incarnations ago. What we choose to believe too is not always in our control. Sometimes, our choices are dictated by our environment, other times by the degree of pain the different choices promise. I cannot imagine what you might have chosen to believe to process my absence in your life, but it must have cost you a package. Or three. 

No matter what you believe, the packages of life are like a court summon. Someone rings the doorbell, you open it to find an obedient servant and someone points at you and says, there, that's him. There are no return or refund policies with the hand life deals us. You are hereby sentenced. However, there is one policy that triumphs over all forms of imprisonment, that defeats all darkness, and helps you grow into who you were meant to be. This policy is that of staying true to one's self. This is what allowed me to process your absence in my life and my absence in yours.

Staying true is not easy. Sometimes, staying true can be truly straying. At other times, fear and insecurity make you want to choose the comfort of denial, of believing what is convenient, or sticking to what others tell you, safety in numbers. A few years back, before this government was elected, we were in conversations with people with very high levels of education, people who are educators themselves. We heard some of them voice disapproval of tolerance of differences and heard them loud and clear. And we were not alone in hearing them as time would tell. We heard them declare compassion and goodness to be nice words, but words that have led us nowhere. We heard them say that the last many decades had been the de-humanization of the right in the name of tolerance and pluralism. We heard them say that enough was enough, that it was payback time.

And so it turned out to be, and all those who warned of the perils of the path the people were choosing were shushed out of the newsrooms and off the op-ed pages. Some of them quietened down, others stopped speaking altogether. Among the rest, some returned their state recognitions while others were killed. The trouble with ideology is that it makes for a lousy business plan. Governance is really about a business plan that will offer equity and dividends fairly to all stakeholders. History has shown time and again that when this business plan is tempered with ideology, you tend to mess up. Happened to the Roman Empire, happened to the Guptas, happened to Tughlaq, happened to the Soviet Union, to Blend of Tea and to the Aam Admi Party. Yet we keep praying that this time, we will be in control, stay on this side of line, get it right. Ideologies and ideologues can be a proper pain in an improper part.

A very similar paradigm runs our personal lives too. The excitement of receiving a package is often dampened as you peel the layers of the packaging back. What you find compels you to make choices, decisions, and like we saw, these decisions are not always the most valid ones. But decisions they are, and decisions come with consequences. As long as the path you choose is one of the greater good, the consequences are bearable. Most prisoners know that it was they themselves that put them there. Others do not have that comfort. This does not mean there is no pain or perhaps even regret. But these are balanced out by the greater good that one believes in.

It is February, and a February with no full moons. There were two in January, and one of them was a lunar eclipse. We happened to go out to view the eclipse and were surprised by the emptiness of the streets and of the playzones which are usually teeming with people of all shades and colors. It was a pleasant experience to have the world to yourself. Most people were indoors, waiting for the eclipse to get over so that they could begin the rituals of appeasing the gods they believe in. Which is a good thing, since gods that need appeasement are best appeased as often as possible. But it made for a wonderful outing for us.

Another solar eclipse comes later this month. I trust you will watch it with all the caution required. Do not look at the sun with your naked eyes. If you do not have proper protective eyewear (sunglasses are not protective eyewear) you can use xray films folded over a few times. If that is not possible, you can use a pinhole camera to project an image of the eclipse as it occurs. It is quite close to the real thing.

Eclipses are a reminder that obscuring of light is a natural phenomenon, but it is also a reminder that as life moves on, light cannot be obscured. You are now old enough to think through things, and will surely have questions about why things turned out the way they did. You will have your answers too, but if you have studied Socrates by now, you will know that the truth is not always how you see it. On the contrary, how you see it often serves to obscure the truth. We are creatures of comfort, and we tend to choose the version of truth that is most comforting, even when it might seem quite painful. Look up the didactic method when you can, and you will know what I am talking about.

It is February and the time that you don't feel quite as thirsty as you should to keep your body hydrated adequately. In Hyderabad, this is a common problem, and chronic dehydration can lead to a lot of physical and mental problems. We are mostly water, and our minds even more so. When that water is missing, we aren't quite what we are supposed to be. So do drink water often even when you are not thirsty. In a few weeks, as it warms up, you will be drinking more since the heat will compel you to build your natural internal air conditioner.

It is true that the world and its people are going through an eclipse, an obscuring of reason, but eclipses pass. It is okay to lose hope as long as you find it again. It is okay to fall, since it teaches you to get up again. Do not measure yourself against anybody other than yourself. Do not expect anything less from yourself than the very best that you are capable of. Avoid expectations of others, both your expectations from them or their expectations from you. Contentment is a good thing, but it is more important to be content with being content. The world works overtime to make sure you are not comfortable with being content. Eclipses pass.

When we are in need of change that we cannot bring ourselves to impose on our selves being the creatures of comfort that we are, life intervenes. This happens at every level, the personal, the political, the global and the universal. These surprise packages are what make growth possible. We tend to mask the lessons they bring by band-aiding them with explanations that suit us, but as we grow and as we move to more mature levels of morality, we have new information that lets us investigate and question the basis of our beliefs. Question everything, and question till there are no more questions left. Once you get to that point, live by those answers. It is not easy, but that is what staying true is all about.

Know that you are loved, missed and longed for. Know that you are always on our minds. Devank says lizard.

Till such time that we meet and compare notes and slug out our differences, take good care of your self and the people in your life. Always be grateful for what life offers you.

Much love,


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