"An unexamined life is not worth living" - Socrates
I glide over the exquisite country-side solitary in flight,
Below in the land of the free, I start to see a great divide,
The erstwhile kaleidoscope, now painted – blue, red and neutral white
It’s been forty-eight months since the last event of this stature
Once again the blue congregate on one end, the red on the other
The neutrals wonder what happened that changed everyone’s demeanor
A smug bird with a checkered past starts a vociferous rant
A gaggle of birds agrees with him and rapturously applause
Their minds made up; no matter what devious seeds he is to plant
“We don’t need the brown birds” he shouts “they take away our grain
“I will capture them in a net and send them out of our blessed land
We will then build a wall, a wall so high it would obstruct their train.”
A brown bird pleads – “Just let us stay, I have young ones born right here”
“I work just as hard as the reds and the blues to feed them what I may”
“The young-lings can!” says one of the red “but you never should have flown this way”
Some of the reds cheer ignoring the dichotomy of this logic
Had their ancestors not flown over the vast oceans a long time ago
What would have they faced I wonder? Nothing but catastrophic!
Enter the blue leader bird with a haughty air and a mocking grin
“I will unite all of the colors” she asserts, “pass laws for every game”
A blackbird wonders why his ilk has for so long endured injustice all of the same
“I will let them, the brown birds in, but in an orderly manner”
We will vet them to ensure that they are clean”, she croons,
The purple one chirps in – “Yes that’s the way, that’s the way and let’s use holy water!”
I feel sad at the state of affairs, shiver with a twinge of fright
I remind myself that everyone, young or old, has the ability to soar
All one needs is an obstructed path and a strong desire to take flight......
Last night made for a disappointing TV viewing! Like millions all over the world, I had tuned into the broadcast of the Presidential debate. However, within 20 or so minutes I was exhausted, tired of looking at a hyper-ambitious career politician with a perpetual smirk or listening to the mumbling of a megalomaniac business tycoon with minimal scruples. I quietly thanked the Lord, the USCIS and the broken immigration system for sparing me of the right to vote for a “non-choice” that we face in this election. Not satisfied with the re-runs of the many football and soccer games and uninterested in any of the other sports I flicked through the channels. I chanced upon a movie playing - an old favorite. It’s a movie, that in my opinion helped cement Will Smith as an actor par excellence. One out of a handful, in which he has showcased his full repertoire of acting skills. No it isn’t Independence Day or Men in Black:). This movie is a 1993 classic called “Six Degrees of Separation”. It’s a crime thriller with no bloodshed or over mysteriousness. I like to call such movies a “Whydunit”. Not wanting to give too much away – the movie’s plot is based on a theory that anyone and everyone is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. In short a chain of "a friend of a friend" can be made to connect any two people in the world within a maximum of six steps.
In the movie Will Smith plays a character named Paul Poitier who claims to be related to a very famous movie director. With his charismatic presence and apparent wisdom beyond his years, he is able to make an impression on New York’s rich and famous. He quickly builds a network and then applies his deceitful ways to its members. His carefully constructed web of lies has elements of truth interspersed within it - making it impossible to detect in the short run. His network is mainly attributable to his ability to throw the right names at the appropriate opportunity. Minus the deceit, there’s much to learn from his character.
I slept pretty soundly last night after I watched the movie. I admit I dozed off about two thirds of the way. This morning when I got up I started to think of a way to test the theory. I decided to find out what my degree of separation was from the famous personalities. What better way to do so than experimenting using a LinkedIn? I can choose random people who I would like to get introduced to and don't have to worry where to start from.
First on the list to check – President Obama of course! At first glance I could not decipher whether I could connect with him through my network or not. Same for Bill Gates and Larry Page. I could follow them for sure but how could I connect with them? Seemed my six degrees was more like a sixty feet chasm! Also, much to my dismay I did not find a presence for Elon Musk - my favorite entrepreneur. However, on further analysis I soon found a commonality in all of them – they were all connected to Jeff Weiner and a little widget on the right told me that I could possibly be introduced to him. A direct connection could introduce me to someone who had the ear of CEO of LinkedIn. Applying the separation logic that was equivalent to three degrees. It was soon clear to me that he was one degree from all of the others in the list I had checked prior. I checked on a few others and it soon dawned on me that in most cases the separation was four or maybe five degrees! So there it was – if I played my cards well I could potentially be invited to meet the leader of the free world at his White House digs or maybe play a round of Golf with him! Jeff, if you are reading this you please consider this as a request to connect.
Emboldened I started to think beyond degrees of separation. I wanted to know who the biggest "influencer" on my network was. Influential not in terms of the number of followers they had, but actual difference he or she had made to my professional life. I crunched some numbers on the 800+ connections I have and these are some stats (with data obfuscated to protect the identity of these Organizations. I don't know why I wanted to be so secretive since all of it is harmless data but I wanted to do this anyway. Maybe the effect of the "Whydunit" last night;)
Then a thought struck me and I realized I had been doing it all wrong! Maybe it was the fear of the Donald, maybe the Data Science course I am doing currently in my “not so much to spare time” or some other mysterious flash of reasoning that enlightened me. I instantly knew that I had to look at the Big Picture among my connections. I needed to find the common thread. I needed to see who transcended the categories that I have illustrated above. And then I found the person who has had the most influence on my career. He was the founder of a product company that I had worked for nearly 10 years who now sits on the board of two of my clients! While working for that company I had been introduced to people who then became my initial clients. My current partners had all come from that company too. I could even attribute some of the people I had met in the Misc. category to him since he had sponsored me to those conferences, training and so on!
With utmost humility I admit – my work life has not been constructed by me but something Frank has unknowingly concocted. Frank, even though you don’t know it – its your world that I live in! And if you are reading this feel very proud of yourself and when you get the chance accept the LinkedIn invite sitting in your inbox….
Its hot and humid. I sit here by the pool but cannot partake. I look around and find nearly everyone engrossed with a device of their liking. A handful look up ever so often to see their child, who like my own, is in the pool - learning how to swim. I reflect on my son's progress over the last two weeks. Its remarkable how quickly he had graduated from a "floating device dependent" to a confident swimmer. The progress across the pool is impressive. Each minnow is now a genuine little shark - partially submerged and confidently propelling at will.
I indulge in some pondering. In the sea of life we are all trying - to not sink. We choose to wade through it with a method of our choice. Some of us are floaters, a rare few divers - everyone else swimmers.
The floaters live the good life but stay largely detached from reality. Their life is dominated by comforts and luxuries. Atop their floats, disengaged from the realities of life they seem content, even happy. However, at the slightest sign of choppy waters, they get displaced quite easily. The insecurities trapped in their character weighs them down at the slightest ripple.
You can spot a swimmer from 50 meters. He is always pushing to stay ahead. He passionately competes against other swimmers; trying to win an imaginary race. He wants to constantly collect trophies and rewards never realizing that they have no real value. Never comprehending that the baggage thus collected if not made light of, will eventually sink him or worse entice him to become a floater .
There are a few that like to jump into the richness of life without a second thought. Hope and perseverance is their gear of choice. They are not afraid to explore the depths, egged on by this indescribable urge to delve deeper. Many a times they perceive the beauty of life and the undeniable truth of it. Sometimes all they find is garbage! Whenever they do find the rare nuggets of wisdom they are the happiest to share with the rest of the world.
As my son gets out of the pool I wonder what my son will grow up to be? I wonder what I will grow into?
"Once I was seven years old, my mama told me,
Go make yourself some friends or you'll be lonely.
Once I was seven years old....."
The song resonated raucously in my car. We had heard this Lukas Graham hit many a times in my car's radio before but today was differently. My son sitting in the back seat was singing along with him. The humor behind a seven year old singing that song at the top of his voice did not escape me. A smile escaped me as I looked in the rear view mirror to catch a glimpse of the budding singer. In the last (nearly) three years I had taken many a rides such as this. Today was different. It was the first time had taken him to a soccer game where I would just watch him. In all previous seasons I had always been in the field with him as I was also his team's coach. Looking back I can't help but marvel how fortunate I have been to accumulate memories during the last three years. I have seen tentative kickers and "toe blowers" morph into soccer maestros who in their minds can bend it like Beckham. I have watched crying kids who would refuse to leave the field when substituted high five their replacements. I have viewed swarms of bodies around the ball and then one fine day figure it out how to beat the rush with a sudden burst of individual brilliance. I have seen tantrums - many more than I would have liked to!. I have observed and absorbed lessons - some knowingly, some unconsciously. Its fair to say that I have learnt more from them than they have from me. In six season I tried to teach them soccer, they helped me (re) learn the way to a fulfilling life. Here are some situations that have left an indelible mark on me....
Rain or Shine - You win when you show up!
The weather is typical of a wet spring day with heavy rain predicted later on. We are gathered in the parking lot and discussing whether we should continue or call off play today.
Kid 1 - "Its starting to rain again! I love playing in the rain."
Kid 2 - "My Dad said its going to thunderstorm a lot and the game is going to get cancelled".
Kid 3- "Its just a drizzle. My Dad says its going to stop soon!"
It drizzles the entire time but we play nevertheless. Only 8 kids show up from both teams and we play 4 vs 4. The thunderstorms never arrive.. The game is full of slips, slides and great plays! Everyone who shows up marvels at the amount of fun it is to play in the rain!
Talking is easy when you are big - Objectivity is the key!
The opposition's best and fastest player makes a solo dash from one end to the other. He leaves behind four of our five in his wake.
I scream - "Griffin! You have to challenge their guy with the ball. Get in front of him! Block! don't just run with him."
Griffin - "I am trying but he is too fast"
He shoots and scores!
Me - "You have to run faster and get in front of him!"
Griffin (slightly emotional) - "Its easy for you to say because you are big!"
From that moment onward I started to become more cognizant of each players strengths and weaknesses. I would treat each one on their raw ability rather than my expectation of it.
When the going gets tough - (sometimes) you just have to do it alone...
We are 3-0 down within the first 4 minutes of the game. I see a few drooping shoulders already. I know its going to be a long game.
Me calling out my star player - I need you to pass when you are surrounded by 3 defenders. You can't do it alone. It does not work. We need to work as a team today.
Sam - I get it.
Next play as soon as Sam gets the ball, he weaves around five players and scores. His sheepish but proud smile tells it all "sometimes you just have to do it alone". I stopped asking him to pass again in that game as he got into "beast mode". He probably scored 6 more in that game!
Slow down - look up and set your goals.
Julian dribbles the ball around 2 players. He has an empty goal but does not kick it in. He keeps moving towards the goal and eventually loses it by over dribbling it into a defender.
Me - Julian you had an empty goal in front of you when beat two defenders . Why did you not shoot into goal?
Julian - I did not see it. I was going too fast and I did not see the open goal.
How many times does this happen to us. We get mired in our daily lives that we forget to look up! If only we did - we will see the goals we aspire to is already and in front of us - to be taken a shot at!
Success tastes best when shared - its all about the team!
Ishaan dribbles past everyone and waits till Declan catches up to him. He sidesteps and Declan kicks and scores. Declan is ecstatic! The whole team surrounds Declan who does his best "Cam Newton" impersonation!
After the game when we sat and munched into our snacks Ishaan told us why he did it - "I wanted Declan to score his first goal". His simple answer had so much depth that he did not realize.
Those words continue to keep me inspired....
Today as we celebrate Thanksgiving, I was overcome with a great joy of being! There is so much to be thankful for and time to re-dedicate to what's truly important. A little prose to mark the occasion!
Consider the world as a mosaic - full of lights of various hues
When you see one burning out - be the fuel
If one rages with anger, be the hose
Bask in the warmth of one that is glowing
Act as a log to one that is losing its purpose
If one loses itself in life's labyrinth, be a beacon
Enjoy the brightness of the one that burns strong
When one turns to ashes respect their essence
Always, always be grateful to the light that is in each one of us!
A couple of events occurred last month that inspired me to write this piece. The first was an appearance of a turtle that force feared me to take a detour on my daily walk. Yes, you read it right – it was a turtle! The second incident that helped realize this article was the arrival of my new laptop. The notebook was a reward to myself after a grueling couple of months and the successful launch of my new venture in India - details at www.hujum.com! I wish I could claim that the laptop is one of those sleek, fully loaded, hyper powerful mean machines that a geek like me dreams of. Much to my chagrin that’s not the case. My new baby is an indistinct, conventional “work oriented” laptop that no one bothers to give a second look. However, it serves its purpose perfectly. It’s subtly impressive yet nondescript features make it unattractive to my kids! They are not compelled to sneak into it – to browse or play when I am away from my seat! Anyway it wasn’t the notebook that excited them; it was how it was packaged. When the UPS guy dropped it on my front porch, he ringed the doorbell as is customary. My kids noticed and ran to see what was in it. It had arrived in a huge box. For a moment I thought it was a prank because the kids effortlessly carried it into the house from the porch. It was deceptively light and felt as if it was full of hot air! When we eagerly dismantled the carton we found the object that would keep us occupied for the next hour and some. The laptop box was wrapped in the fluffiest bubble wrap we had ever seen! As is customary my six-year-old laid the wrap on the floor and started to pop those irresistible “bubbles”. He was able to do so without much effort and that delighted him no end. There was no need to perform a high jump landing to rupture it. A gentle tap and the bubble would crack with a loud pop. My older pre-teen joined in the fun as well. A cacophony of sounds followed. It was Diwali inside the house - loud and relentless but without the smoke and the chaos. The celebration lasted a while - seasonal and totally rapturous. I too joined in the fun and we were all amazed by the amount of pops we were able to conjure. My older one then pointed out that it was due to the uniquely designed sheet. He had observed that each bubble had two compartments and could be snapped twice! I tell you now, this kid is going to be a Scientist when he grows up!
While on the topic of snapping let me describe the turtle incident that I had mentioned earlier. On that morning my wife and I had just crossed the tiny bridge that leads to the walking trail behind our community, when a woman stopped us. “Do not go near it! It hissed at me and is blocking the path”. The path blocker that she had run into was a rather ordinary looking, mid-sized turtle. It was a “Snapping Turtle”, named so because of its propensity to bite any intruder that dares cross its path. We ignored the threat and walked towards it. We could see its outline a few feet away. My better half wanted us to turn around and not go near it. I could not for the life of me understand what the fuss was about. Aren’t turtles supposed be harmless and awfully slow? “We could easily walk past it and if it tried to jump at us we could run”, I thought aloud. I encouraged us to get closer to it and I also took couple of pictures. We realized it was not worth us arguing about or to disturb its peace and retraced our steps. We took an alternate route that allowed us to be with each other longer than we would have otherwise been. It was a good decision in the end!
Chelydridae is the scientific name of the species we encountered, but Snapping Turtle is what they are commonly known as. Like most types in their genus, they are largely docile. It’s only when they wander out of water that they feel threatened by all and sundry. The hissing and biting is a defense mechanism they deploy when they perceive themselves in a dangerous situation. That’s no different than us, humans. We hiss out at people to show our displeasure. We too sometimes like to get into our shells when fearful, or snap when threatened. Don’t we wish that there was some way for us to be always safe so why blame the turtle for feeling so? I started to think of various ways I could keep myself and all what I hold important safe. Being a Star Wars fan, the first thing that came to mind was an invisible force field, one that I could deploy at all times. As I started to delve into it I saw a problem with the solution immediately. A force field will keep us safe but destroy anything that tried to get close to us. We would need to build a very sophisticated detection system that would know when to deploy and/or lower the shields and as my mind wandered……. a loud pop from the other room startled me! Surely the answer was right there! I could bubble wrap my life! Couldn’t I? Then the engineer in me started doubting my instinct. What material would I use? What color and texture? The more I thought the more I realized that life is too complex to be secure wrapped. Life’s unpredictability makes it unsuitable to be bubble wrapped with anything other than blind faith. Unless, of course you are a cute little 6-year-old and it’s your doting Dad’s you are trying to wrap around your little finger! As I started to ponder over the topic I realized one could endeavor to wrap one’s work though. To secure it, make it invariable and predictable. I jotted down a few of the professions and the materials for securing them: -
Every day an indulgence of the senses
Every moment an adventure of the spirit
Craving the luxuries that life has to offer
Contentedness in just Being
Sensual pleasures of the mind
Love and devotion to the Eternal
Getting there by hook or by crook
The path of truth and nothing else
Fame and adulation of many
Respect and admiration of the One
Life full of aversion and fear
Unconditional surrender to Love
"I wish my front yard was all concrete."
I must admit there have been days when I have wished, wondered or said aloud such a dreary thought. It's usually during Spring or early Summer. It's when those wonderful plants magically start growing. No, not the ones that we have planted but the ones that find their way into our yard without permission. The wanderers, the uninvited guests - the plants that we have not found a use for. Yet. Some of us like to call them by their generic pedigree - WEEDS.
As I was "de-weeding" my yard last week I contemplated such a scenario again. However the harder I tried to get them out of my yard, the more my outlook towards them changed. I got wonder struck by their resilience, their carefree nature and even respect of their obstinacy. Their will to grow and never give up attitude is clearly unsurpassed! I realized I had started to care about them while I (ironically) pulled them out of their miserable existence. It's amazing how quickly they can grow without any tending or water, let alone fertilizer or plant food. The perennials that I nursed religiously over the summer were getting beaten by nature and pests. Not these hardy, wild plants though. They were growing thick and fast and if I let them - they would multiply till the cows came home! I begrudgingly annihilated them and turned inwards. I wondered what would happen if I had let them grow. My first reaction was I might get cited by my HOA (House Owners Association). But what if I ignored all of those pesky notices? What if I let the weeds grow without hindrance? I started to wonder - what would the people in my community think about us, the owners? How would commuters and people that know nothing about us, react when they drive or walk by see our disheveled facade? A barrage of possibilities overflowed my mind.
I was on my daily walk. It was an alternative route that I sometimes take when I do not have enough time to do the 5-6 mile trek. I was cutting through the forest trail when I heard a faint conversation from beyond the pathway. I walked towards the sound, treading slowly. From a distance I could see Ben animated whereas Jerry looked solemn. They heard my footsteps and quietened down - not wanting to be heard. When they saw me they relaxed and continued on with their conversation. They knew me as I had walked past them numerous times. I had, on a number of occasions thanked them for their solidity and resoluteness. Their existence ensures our own and nurtures life on Earth. However, this morning I had stopped to snoop on them.
Ben: Have you gone crazy? Why would you do this to yourself?
Jerry: I don’t know Ben. I am just not feeling it here anymore.
Ben: But no one ever moves from here. Take a moment to think about yourself here. Your roots are getting firm. You are getting ample water. You have good neighbors and thanks to the rich township we are all being fed organic tree food! We also have insurance - protected as no one is allowed to cut us down. I would NEVER leave this place till I am asked to retire. Why would you?
Jerry: I understand all of that and I am grateful for it. But Ben there is a lack of freedom here. We have all been lined up right next to each other. We are allowed to grow to only what’s convenient to the township. There is no breeze due to the row of houses, no direct sunlight on some of us due to the cramped area. There is no incentive to be creative. No one wants us to be unique.
Ben: Jerry we are trees! We weren’t meant to be creative. We need to remain in one place and grow. That’s what we signed up for!
Jerry remained quiet and stared towards the horizon. He looked towards his young saplings. Ben had a point. Why would he do this to his small branches? He also thought of Nancy. They were still recovering from a major setback to their relationship. His moving away could jeopardize the stability they had been starting to build. He let out a sigh of mild resignation.
Ben getting confident with his own arguments moved closer to Jerry. He put his powerful branch over his young friend.
Ben (softening the tone in his voice): I know that you are frustrated. It is slow moving here. But all GOOD things in life take time! You can always find adventure in the little things. You can help young trees remain bug free, assist them in absorbing nutrients from the rich organic soil by breaking it down for them. Why move? Stay put and you can become like me, a strong hardwood who guides young saplings to grow and attain the next level.
Jerry cut him off. It was very unlike him. I could sense his gentle soul stirring.
Jerry: I can’t do this anymore Ben! I can no longer preach the message I don’t believe in. I can’t convince the saplings to do things they ought to do anyway. I need a new place, a place where there is openness. A place where there is sunshine and air that I can breathe freely in. A place where I can be ME!
Ben was taken aback and was lost for words. Jerry’s voice now was full of resolve and his steps followed his will. He started to pull himself up from the ground. His roots cracked. I am sure he was hurting but there was none he betrayed. There was no fear.
Jerry (walking away from Ben): I am leaving Ben. If Nancy wants to come with me I will be delighted. If not, I will understand but I need to do this anyway. As for the saplings, they will be fine. All they need is sunlight, fresh air and a place that allows them to be creative. Given those, they will find a way to thrive.
Jerry started to walk away. His footsteps no longer heavy, even after years of stagnation. Nancy started to move slowly and resolutely behind him - trusting his convictions. The two young saplings started to sway with excitement. For the first time they were being encouraged to NOT stay put. They were being set free to run.
I heard the first sound of thunder, a storm brewing. I knew that I had to head towards shelter – away from the trees. Nearing home I saw a great flash of lightning. It seemed it had struck in close proximity to where I had been a few minutes ago. Jerry had fortunately escaped but some of the other trees were not so lucky.
Nature had spoken, reminding me once again that change was just a lightning strike away.
I climb down the seven floors flushed with a sense of an impending discovery. I am in the hub of Gurgaon, a Delhi suburb teeming with technologists. It’s the crack of dawn, the sun threatening to engulf the town with searing heat, and with the cloud cover, intense humidity. I pass the guard, he gets up from his broken chair immediately and salutes a “Good Morning”. I smile back at him and reciprocate, moving quickly towards the road. I immediately see a woman wearing the traditional Indian Suit come towards the building. She looks older than her fifty or so years. Her gait indicates her worries. I say the most cheerful “Good Morning” I can muster. A smile breaks past her, her worries dissolved for a fleeting moment. Unknowingly, I have just enabled the flow of energy!
I say a “Good Morning” to the guard at the gate even before he gathers his wits. He seems mildly surprised, perhaps because I break the rules of expectations.I say “Good Morning” to a retired couple walking gingerly who respond back cheerfully. A wave of a hand and a smile from another couple the next time I utter the magic words. A father and a son brisk walking in silence respond to my greeting with a guarded response. I continue on the road that acts as a walking trail. It’s lined with trees, Gulmohar, Kachnar and the likes. A few yards further along, the road merges into the next. A strategically placed traffic block allows for more pedestrians by blocking out the motorists. Two lovely ladies filled with chatter and laughs respond enthusiastically. I now walk freely without the fear of being overrun. I touch some of the trees while I stroll - acknowledging their presence. A man with a dog gets guarded as I pass by – perhaps wary that the dog might get vicious. I greet the dog with a smile who responds back with a gentle wag of the tail. A woman walking alone starts to cross the road. I belt out a loud “Good Morning” to her, startling her. She recovers quickly and responds back with the biggest smile seen on this side of the Aravalli’s. A strong sense of what I need to do later starts to take form. I consciously say “Good Morning” to everyone I see. I take mental notes of their reactions as they respond back to me.
A silent one, a muted one followed by a loud one. A college kid, starts to run as soon as he hears me. I imagine that perhaps my enthusiasm rubbed onto him and he shot off with energy as a result of that!
A pack of the famed Delhi street dogs start to block my path. My sense of positivity does not slow me at all. I walk past them acknowledging their unpredictability. I keep the pace on and reach a logical place where to turn back around. I walk across the street again, trying to be closer to the side that has more trees. I touch a few of them again and feel grateful. The sense of chaos dissolves when surrounded by deep rooted serenity.
I wave to a group of Chowkidars who are starting their work day. They talk and smoke the traditional Beedi – performing their daily ritual. They enthusiastically wave back and shout a "Salaam" when I take the initiative to bid them a great start.
I have overshot the building compound when I realize I have reached the “Ambience” Mall. The name is apt – I am at level zero – the place where one is near dead calm. I turn around again and walk towards the gate. An attractive girl, perhaps going to work in one of the tech companies notices me. She starts to get uncomfortable as I approach her. She pretends to look away from me, but I am too vested now to leave her alone. I say the cheeriest “Good Morning” I can possibly conjure. Her aloofness melts, the strangeness disappears and she smiles back. The gift of a “Good Morning” dawns on her as well.
I resolve to never walk quietly on a trail again. There’s a gift of light that’s free for me to give to everyone. It’s a start of the day everyone deserves. I promise myself to keep providing good vibrations. In return, feel it's power running through my veins....
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