Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Unconcern of Adam

I am presently engaged in a jigsaw puzzle of the famous painting by Michelangelo in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, known as the "Creation of Adam". This painting is one of many that adorn this historical monument so it is hard for a first time visitor plus average tourist to absorb anything more than the sheer scale of the endeavour that is the ceiling. I got lucky - the free Android app that I had downloaded when I had visited Italy in June 2014 had skipped tourist places to visit in Rome, but had a beautifully detailed audio account of this very magnum opus. So I had spent 45 quiet minutes inside the Chapel with my neck craned upwards and my mind in awe. Wanting to take back a souvenir, I splurged on a 540-piece jigsaw puzzle for 11 Euros. 



My first attempt to put it together after I got back was abandoned almost as soon as it had begun, what with life's sundry pressures taking its toll. Two weeks ago I pulled the box out, craving an outlet for my wayward thoughts. So it was that three-odd years on, the exquisite form of this painting took a slow but steady shape on one corner of the bed. Four days later I was surprised to find myself more involved in this project than ever, contrary to my usual waning of interest in any new project that I undertake. Yesterday I googled the painting. Among other things, two points surprised me: that Michelangelo was a deeply religious man, and that one of the messages encased in the “Creation of Adam” was God’s ultimate power in the creation of man. Maybe it is my interpretation of the painting, but all I could see in the scattered pieces was not awe, but a nonchalance underlined by a satirical smile - driven solely by man’s incredible sense of self importance. 

Let me explain why. 

The key part of this work is Adam, the first man created by God, getting life through a touch of His finger. 


One of the interpretations I read described Adam as lifeless; being incapable of energy and therefore lying in a heap on Earth, weak. While God was surrounded by a halo and a bevy of angels, floating in the air. He is depicted in energetic (and of course, beatific) movement, stretching his fair, muscled and hairless arm towards Adam all the way from Heaven, as if to offer help.  

I did not see helplessness in Adam's glorious, naked form. In his lazy, lounge-like posture, I saw entitlement instead. And in the way he stretched his finger out at God, an irreverent carelessness. Almost like as if he was saying, “You owe me this, already. After all, isn’t this why You made me?” 

It is true that we do not ask to be given life. We are born because of someone else. But once we are, it is our responsibility to ourselves to make this life count. Ever since I convinced myself that I had a choice on how to live my life and went about doing precisely that, I have noticed with greater and greater frequency, how many others share Adam’s sense of entitlement. It could be adult children expecting their parents to support them financially even after they are capable to being on their own, or employees expecting a certain treatment by their organisations. But most of all, I see this helplessness manifested the strongest in times of crises. Beyond the “Why me?” is a feeling of hopelessness that they are “destined” to suffer, followed by an envy of others who are not sharing a similar fate at the same time. Why they do not ask “Why me?” when something good happens is apparently a moot point. 

Beyond the fleeting moment when we enter this world, we are on our own. To expect anything more from fate, destiny, our families or friends is misguided. After all, if God wanted to control everyone’s life, why create a living, breathing, thinking human form? Might as well have created amoebae that are scarcely aware of themselves, let alone the purpose of their lives. 

Seneca echoes this thought far more eloquently, when he asks: 

But how can a man learn, in the struggle against his vices, an amount that is enough, if the time which he gives to learning is only the amount left over from his vices?

None of us goes deep below the surface. We skim the top only, and we regard the smattering of time spent in the search for wisdom as enough and to spare for a busy man.

I think where and how we start out is no indication of where we end up. It does not mean that we disregard our origins; it means that irrespective of how we came into this world and began living, we should aim to become wiser and happier. In a life with limited time, energy and resources, we, and we alone must make the decision on where, and how to spend them. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Picking my Battles

I feel battle weary. Nothing like the true blue action in Amish's latest, but a test of will and perseverance all the same. 

I brushed past another insidious comment today with a seemingly innocent one of my own, effectively quelling a potential confrontation. There have now been so many word wars I have avoided, I have ceased to keep count. 

It was only recently, as I celebrated a year of being on my own, that I realised all that I didn't do, at the same time I noted all that I did. I didn't act as much as I observed. I didn't look back as much as forward. Finally, I didn't fight back even though I could. 

I don't remember the first time my parents advised me to "pick my battles", but it's been repeated often enough since. I first let things go when I was barely out of college. Dictated by pride, convincing myself that silence was the hallmark of the dignified. But that only led to the fire burning inside of me instead of outside. The next time I smiled at a disparaging dig it was at work. I had smiled because my next decision, which had been to quit that job, had suddenly become so much easier. 

Over the past month or so, the figurative demons I have been fighting have been the makings of my own mind - a potent mix of abundant hormones, a rapidly tiring body and a burning purpose to do work worth my while. Strange bedfellows have been my only constant thus far in my life, and this was no exception. 

That was how I was discovered by the newer insurgents over the last three days, hurt and snarling. Pride dictated that I put up as normal a face as possible, but it barely lasted a couple of hours, crumbling in the face of constant querying, judging and commenting. Hankering for some peace and quiet, I put on my cloak of silence and found a cosy corner of my mind to sulk in. I had barely started licking my wounds, and was in no state to be the charming hostess that was expected of every daughter in law in an Indian household, urban or rural be damned. 

Yesterday, by noon, I had felt dangerously close to a precipice. I had lost control over the mask that had now become my trademark inexpressive face, and had turned to spouting venom the moment I stepped out of the house and encountered another non-familial human being. I knew I was treading dangerous ground, because when I would search my memory for those interactions, I would remember nothing. The only time my excellent visual memory fails me is when I am raging beyond expression. Oh, this was so not good. 

I napped my way through the stress, my already weak body crumbling under the mental strain. Only to be rudely woken up with a reminder of my non-dutiful behaviour - "We had guests at home and you slept through it all. You could have come out of your room and spent 10 minutes with everyone. What is so difficult about that?" 

Keeping my tongue in control was difficult. Allowing such a rabid invasion of my house when I was in no state to entertain, let alone stand in one place for a few minutes was difficult. Most of all, keeping quiet through it all, when all I wanted to do was scream my head off and chase everyone out with a stick, was difficult. Compared to these scenes repeating in head, my napping through the afternoon felt like a hungry python whose snores are only rivalled by its stomach grumbling with hunger. 

Now that we are all caught up with my non-issues, I replay the retort of my dreams for the nth time, open my laptop and begin to type out a blogpost. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Annus Mirabilis

Tomorrow marks one year of being on my own, and I decided that it warranted a blogpost, irrespective of whether I had anything specific to say. Before that, first things first: I have definitely improved my skills in the naming of blogposts (check this out and the current one - fist pump!)

Figuratively speaking, I closed my only door before looking for a window to open, 365 days ago. I just knew that I needed a change from my full time job but it took me two weeks of roller coaster like thinking, an excel sheet and a sleepless weekend to decide to freelance rather than get another full time job. 

My ex employer was the initial light for this untrodden path, offering me a 2-day-a-week consulting assignment even before I could articulate what I wanted. A much needed jab of reality for me, in hindsight. I struggled with the other 3 days at home, getting 5 days of work done in 2 and admitted to myself that I sorely missed the social environment that a workplace provides above everything else. 

I moved from binging on movies, to binging on sleep, to a higher frequency of workout at the gym. I met people, made project proposals for said prospectives, swished them off by email and then bit my nails to dust when no reply was forthcoming. I weaved huge dreams, visioning and then visioning my life 5 years from now, when I would be making more money than I have ever done, while having enough time for all my hobbies and my family. A juxtaposed utopia that seemed within my grasp. 

The hot winds of an early summer in late February brought with it a stony silence on the work front, something I was ill prepared for. I knew from watching my father (who was also an independent consultant) that Q4 was traditionally a quiet time. Plus, ups and downs of this nature are part of being independent. I wish I could say that I reasoned myself into a smile; that I took the silence, moulded it into a ball of clay and tucked it away in my pocket. 

When prospective clients popped out of their walls to message and email me again as April dawned, I could scarcely believe it. So much so that I undervalued myself a couple of times. I lived to learn from it. To date, I have worked on 4 projects with 3 different clients, and none of them have been anything like the other. I enjoyed the fast learning curve, and learned more about negotiation, people management and dynamics at the workplace from these projects than my 7 years of work put together. Ah, and the icing on the cake: regular expenses included, I have made money. Just don't ask how much yet, because I am only focussing on the colour of that number for now.

When speaking to friends, family, or prospective clients, I marvelled at my ideas - new, yet workable. I admired my new found adaptability and chided myself every time I grimaced at a change. I created monthly / weekly / daily schedules, didn't follow them and still got work done. Most of all, I learned to like myself a little more, and be more forgiving. I deserved a chance and this was life giving me just that. 

It seems like only yesterday when I signed up for this, because I didn't want to do anything else. Through ups, downs and everything else in between, it has been far, far more than I expected. 

Thanks to friends sounding so wistful about my new life that I wondered if I was cribbing too much, and to family for making me take things one day at a time. I am a reformed long term micro planner and proud to declare it. 

Thank you to the world at large, for not being the crazy place filled with evil intentions that I had thought it to be. 

Thanks to me, for just sticking on, day after day, month after month, watching time go by and appreciating the view from that window, always. 

It has been a truly wonderful year. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

FOMO

I had many fears when I quit my full time job after 7 glorious years of fancy titles, fancier company names and unmentionably low salary increments: 
1. How would I finance my monthly shopping frenzy, one. Answer one: that itch died along with the need to be constantly seen in something trendy, because my new wardrobe was rapidly rotating pyjamas and those seasons last years, you know
2. How would I continue to be financially independent and hold my own in important decisions at home, two. The cash well, so to speak, was not empty, yet. Like the swan singing its last song, I was free to assert my opinion as long as it numbered > 0
3. What would I do with my time, three. This turned out to be the least of my problems. There always were movies to watch, afternoon naps to take and friends to catch up with. And the occasional "business development" for new projects, of course

Nine months to myself and some of my deeper malaises are floating to the surface like dead fish: 
1.1 The worth of my CV, which I had painstakingly and strategically built to its impressive (as of June 2016) state, one point one. Another year of sitting around, dreaming and I could kiss any chances of getting another full time job worth my time goodbye 
2.1 In five, maybe ten years all my peers, especially the ones I would refuse to be in the same meeting room with, will be VPs, CXOs and oh-so-definitely investors, two point one. I would be exactly where I am now, slightly worse the wear
3.1. Aforementioned VPs and CXOs will send their children to fancy international school holidays for "study tours", and eventually to Norway to study "design", three point one. I would scrape through something to support living expenses of my progeny for a merit seat at a local college
4.1 In their early fifties, people my age will be talking "early retirement", four point one. I will still be searching for my calling

On the other hand, I know in my heart of hearts, as I have known for every single day of the past nine months I have spent outside of the workplace, that I belong elsewhere. Even on the worst days - the days when I had no new clients, nothing new to add to my latest piece of writing and when everything seemed dull, I did not want to go back to work. 

Maria Popova of Brain Pickings fame speaks eloquently and passionately about how anything worthwhile takes time, and laments our culture that values productivity and money over real immersion and following our hearts. She's lucky, I think, she stumbled upon her calling like one trips over an uneven stone on the footpath. I am too tired to study something completely new, too old for fanciful thinking, and too close to the ground to ignore the monthly bills. Then there are the others, my colleagues turned ex friends, moving on to better paying jobs while looking at me as a trapped bird would at the sky. 

I don't know which is the greater fear: never tasting freedom, or not knowing when and where (if at all) real, life altering inspiration is going to strike. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Being Female

This is the first time I have given voice to a topic that has been close to my heart since I left home for college, and spent time in the close company of the opposite sex. 

I realise with bitter clarity one reason for me to have taken so long to get to this point: for almost a decade I had been all bluster and no essence. For the first half of my life I was content to do laps in my shallow end of the pool, since I didn't know any better. I spent the next ten years or so seething. First quietly, then in fits of words, like an overloaded washing machine leaking its excess. Now, I am tired. Or rather, my body is tired and is dragging my mind along with it. Hence the action. 

My first learning is that a bulk of my limitations or restrictions are self inflicted. As an impressionable teenager, I had looked at other women - older women, younger women, more popular women, successful women - and decided to be a little like all of them. My shackles were in my mind, into which I allowed just about anyone whose words fell into my over sensitive ears. In all that cacophony, I lost contact with who I really was. Now, the only rules that matter are the ones that I make.

My second learning is a practical one - for better or for worse, we live in a society where men hold more power. It is natural that they will do things the way they know. If women had been in power, maybe men would be blogging about their rights, too. I want to focus on navigating this tide, rather than trying to turn it in my favour. Of course, if a few people get sensitized along the way, great. Otherwise, they will be made more than aware simply by watching me stand up for myself.  

My last learning is that preaching to the world is a waste of time. Everyone has emails to check, families to feed and FB to update. I have my little world, which is in as much in my control as it could possibly be. I need to effect the change in this microcosm. Then I can blog about it and send it to a few people who matter to me. Maybe they will do something in their worlds, maybe not. Either way, change will happen in its own time.

As a disclaimer, I am just writing about what I know. I don't want to get into an argument of "buts" on how I am privileged to be where I am, since lakhs of girls get killed in their mother's wombs, lakhs get married off as mere children and millions continue to suffer a plight that is the definition of subjugation. All of that is true. What I think is also true. To me.



Friday, September 23, 2016

How to Ride the Wave

It was the fourth dive of my trip and the tenth dive of my life. Visibility was spotty, and combined with my slug like grace 14m under the blue, blue ocean it was turning out to be a tiring and mildly boring dive. 

The instructor gestured for us to head back towards the boat. Not much use hanging around when we could barely see our hands in front of us. It was only after a couple of minutes of flailing about that I realised that everyone else was doing exactly the opposite. There was a strong current which luckily for us, was moving in the very direction that we wanted to go. As experience amply showed, all the other divers stopped moving and focused on breathing evenly. This ensured that they retained neutral buoyancy, conserved energy (and consequently oxygen), all the while moving towards their destination. 

I thought of this incident today, while contemplating the seesawing nature of my once predictable life. It was wake up, get ready, work, work, work, get home, sleep, sleep, sleep. Then it's weekend and soon it's Monday. So wake up, get ready, work, work, work, get home, sleep, sleep, sleep. Then it's weekend and soon it's Monday. For 7 years (I know that many people have done this for 23, 53, 60 years. For me 7 is a lot in a way that half yearly anniversaries are celebrated by the newly married.) I recall the ups and downs of work life, good one day, disastrous the next, snooze worthy on most days. Post my 6th year, I learnt the hard way (and thanks to A's brutal advice) that getting all worked up over every small blip on the excitement screen was a wasteful expense of energy. Growing older helped. As did losing sleep. What I detested the most was my overall powerlessness in making or breaking these things. Hard work rarely determined the output. Neither did sincerity, saving for a rainy day and calling wolf. These sound pathetically naive to me now, but at that time I was out of options. 

There are so many things I want to do, starting with determining how I spend my time. I want to be on time, no, 5 minutes early to meetings, movie shows and family dinners. I want to read sleazy romance novels for 30 minutes everyday before sleeping, in the warm comfort of my bed. I want to create something with my impossibly high standards; something perfect in my eyes. Then I want to share it with the people who really want to see it simply because they are curious, not because they are being paid to or because they accepted my meeting request when they were high on self importance. I want to write of course. 

Nothing can get me as close to what I want as I would like, whether in a controlled environment like a workplace, or out of it. Not by doing it my way, at least. Each day is a like a wave in the ocean. It comes from somewhere deep inside the world, created by many tiny thoughts and actions each adding up to the curve. It it continuous, day after day, but no wave is alike. I cannot determine the wave that would lap at my feet or prevent it from sinking me under. But I can ride it. Take steady breaths, achieve neutral buoyancy, and drift with the current. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Put Everything at Stake

When I recently completed two busy years at my ex employer, my LinkedIn inbox flooded with ‘congratulatory’ emails. You know, the one that LinkedIn has so thoughtfully penned so that we can just hit the ‘Send’ button instead of actually typing something useful, or god forbid, personal. 

After limboing for more than two weeks, I finally updated my current position on LinkedIn to a savvier version of ‘unemployed’. In case you are searching your ignorant brain, it is ‘Independent Consultant’. By that time I had lost the rest of my sparse bravado and was sweating at how my established and much secure peer group would react at this coup de idiocy.  Now, LinkedIn’s profile format mandates that we enter the name of the company we are working at, so I checked the only option that I was prompted - ‘Self Employed’So now I am, if one had to make a sentence out of this as we would of any full time job, independently working at employing myself. 

Then I forgot to toggle the button that proclaimed ‘yes, publish an update to my network about my profile changes’ before making said edits. Might as well shout out my potential pennilessness to the world. Que sera sera and all that. 

Before barrelling into the much anticipated self flagellation on this seemingly unreasonable decision, I agreed with myself that I now had a lot at stake. I had given up my only source of regular income (not to mention the emotional security of a job and all its attendant benefits like free lunches), so I owed it to myself to make better use of my time. If I squandered this period of my life I would have no one else to blame but myself, for a change. If one turned this statement around (the mathematical equivalent of its contradiction being true if a statement was true) it would be that employed management professionals in the mid-senior level have notoriously less to lose. I have a weakness for Victorian era stories, so I see a strong parallel here. During the late 1890s, the aristocracy ruled most of Britain. They had so much wealth - immovable assets like land and farms which generated income - that maintaining it was in itself a lifelong job. While a few exceptions multiplied their holdings and therefore their wealth, a large majority lived a life of decadence: singing, dancing and wining their lives away. The ton, as this set was fashionably called, was known for its unforgiving attitude towards anyone who crossed the line of propriety in any form. To me the only plausible explanation for this uselessly rigid behaviour was that they had so much of material comfort, that the only thing that mattered anymore was their reputations.

To cut to the present, whenever I have socialised with my peer group, the only thing that has mattered was where everyone was working. What was earlier a vocal exclamation of pleasant surprise and not a little envy (because I had worked at what was viewed as a 'happening startup'), now I see a casual shrug and a not so covert move away towards someone with whom they can do corporate speak, and maybe further their 'network'. 

It is no surprise therefore, that more than 12 hours after I mistakenly told my LinkedIn network my new job, my inbox remains bereft of congratulatory messages. Here’s my vote for a message template that reads: “Congratulations on following your true calling. Hope you have fun and write about it someday.”