One Revolution Around the Sun

January 1, 2017

This happened in November end.

Padma and I were at Tirunelveli Station (an important town in Tamil Nadu, India). We were returning after brief rendezvous with several deities across few temples. It was a working day and hence the temples were not crowded. Purchase of Tirunelveli Halwa (a delicacy known only to discerning sweet lovers) took some time and we had only twenty five minutes to spare for the train to leave. The local railway canteen seemed acceptable to have a meal and we trudged to the other end of the platform to buy food parcel and get into our compartment.

I scanned the list pasted on the compartment twice and did not find our names. I had checked the ticket thrice and was sure the date, the compartment and seat number were right. Then I had a sinking feeling- did I check the month? I verified and found that I had purchased the ticket for the right date and the wrong month (29th December instead of 29th November).

The train was empty. So I rushed to the ticket counter (again at the other end of platform where the canteen was) and purchased two unreserved tickets (running tickets colloquially) and flashed an Rs.2000 note. The tickets were around Rs.200 and I got Rs.1800 back. Luck seemed to be in my favour.

Padma was waiting anxiously wondering how many times does she have to endure similar mishaps during journey ( twice in the past few years I overlooked the departure time of the flight and had to rush to catch the flight). We had four minutes to spare before the train left. I walked and did not run (lacked strength to do so) adding to her anxiety. We got in, spoke to the Ticket Checker, got our seats allotted – all before the engine blew the whistle to leave.

I will remember 2016- among other things- for this incident as Padma and I became entitled and availed the senior citizen benefit for the first time and how we availed it. Air tickets also provide this benefit in a sporadic manner (marginal discount for astronomically priced tickets and none for others).

Our mind, like our vision, can at times be myopic. We tend to forget or erase some of the files in our mental hard disk. I wondered what was uppermost in my mind a year back.

The first was the expected arrival of a new member of our family.

Among the rest, the uppermost was the exit from employment and its consequences. Was I prepared for the life post retirement? I do not think so. It is one thing to know that the shower would jet out   cold water on a winter morning and another thing to experience its chillness. Body may accept, but the mind rebels.

Some interesting events stick in my mind. We had gone to an exhibition selling various knick knacks. There was a stall for handwriting analysis (Graphology). A young lady was sitting there charging Rs. 350 for this expertise. I wrote down a few sentences of her choice- it contained all the alphabets it seems. Surprisingly, her analysis was reasonably correct. I had done this earlier some years back and found the analysis at that time also to be good.

Facebook, though seemingly meant for young or younger generation, actually seems to be favoured more by older generation. I am a recent convert and go through it regularly. I get to meet many individuals whom we would otherwise never know. The added feature of photographs makes it livelier. I regularly display some of my photographs – mostly of nature- in it and get some compliments. The telephone camera (21 megapixels) has largely contributed to the quality of photos.

A friend who was gifted a DSLR (an advanced kind of camera) by his daughter; learnt photography formally and now takes impressive photos of birds in flight and animals staring intently at the camera. I am now persuaded that my latent skills will bloom if I learn formally and I will join Raghu Rai’s (a famous photographer) league within the next two re-births.

In pursuit of this goal, I bought an entry level DSLR, helped generously by Amazon in seemingly giving a generous festival discount. It has two separate lens and complex instructions to take simple photographs. Taking a routine photo is made intimidating and I now understood when my friend said he kept his DSLR in locker for some months till his daughter compelled him to learn to use it.

I went to the manufacturer’s free lessons conducted by a fashion photographer and now have a better understanding of my level of ignorance. I packed the camera more carefully now and have stored it safely. I will go to the photographer from whom my friend has learnt this skill and then use the camera.

What will I do with the photos taken thereafter? Of course, I will selectively put it in Facebook. If they display a higher level of skill, then I will see how to give them wider exposure.

I started to learn swimming in August. I am now able to swim without any support. It only means that I am somehow able to go one side of the pool to another. I see others of varying ages- from 7 to 75 – gliding in water with powerful strokes. The hands dip and rise gracefully propelling the individual forward effortlessly. I look at them with admiration and try to emulate them – with no   great results. Swimming requires coordinated efforts from the entire body. When I focus on legs, the hands become indolent and vice versa. When I determinedly put it all together, somehow I swallow water which irritates the throat. I then revert back to what I am able to do. I decide – one thing at a time.

There is no annual KPA (Key Performance Areas- relevant for annual appraisal) now. I can decide what my goal should be, how much time I should devote or take and how I would achieve it.  But still old habits die hard. So I try to improve my performance to the extent the mind pushes the rather tired body, to swim more effectively.

The teaching assignment at NMIMS is a new experience. I need to express in an interesting manner the information and knowledge gained over a long period, to a group of young students. I have found that there is a gap of varying sizes between my brain and tongue. How do I make a subject, which the students have never studied and may perhaps never use later, look “awesome”?  It is like learning to drive in dense traffic. The results obviously would be similar. My efforts to enhance interest would continue.

Event wise, two stand out. The first is de-monetisation. It caused and continues to cause some level of inconvenience. Some ATMs are closed from November 9th onwards.I do not understand why a watchman should sit outside a dead ATM. The bank can pull down the shutter as ATM is not going to open in foreseeable future.

Seeing photos of piles of black money in new and old currency angers many of us. But seeing the plight of genuinely helpless individuals placed in less comfortable circumstances in far off places causes consternation. As an individual, it is hard to understand what this action could mean to the country’s economy- as I had only two question papers on economics in B.Com and the lessons learnt were forgotten promptly.

I hope something good comes out of all this pain- beyond getting vegetables and fruits at good prices now.

The next is the fight (called childish in some reports) between Shri Ratan Tata and Shri Cyrus Mistry. As a former employee of Tata Steel and having worked in circumstances where I have seen both individuals in action, this fight is painful at an almost personal level. There is also a professional interest in how the legal and practical aspect would turn out.

In many ways, it is a reflection of why India is lagging behind. It is not lack of opportunities, it is not using them effectively or frittering away each opportunity; which makes us lag behind much smaller countries like South Korea or Japan. One word to describe it would be- sad.

What do I want to do in 2017?

I have mentioned some of them. First is to complete successfully my teaching assignment. How to measure success? The feedback from the students should be the prime criteria. The second would be my own hopefully honest self- assessment.

The second would be to learn photography and put it to good use. I love photography. It is an act of creation. Another human being is compelled to look at a slice of the world through your (lens’) eyes. Photograph emphasises certain aspect of an object- live or inanimate- and in today’s digital world, immortalises them.

The next is to learn graphology- handwriting analysis. It is more out of curiosity rather than of any practical application. After all, no one writes regularly by hand today. But still, it gives a peep into another individual’s brain and heart.  There are formal classes held over weekends.

I want to learn to read my mother tongue Tamil. Yes- I do not know to read Tamil, despite loving the language in an obvious manner. I only know to speak it and read it enough to know the destination in buses and train, cinema posters and so on but the rich literature this oldest or very old language is beyond my reach now. I want to remedy this. I will seek Padma’s assistance for this effort.

I should see at least two new places in 2017. There are so many beautiful and interesting locations within India itself which many of us have not visited. Planning for these visits would be as interesting as the visit itself.

The most memorable aspect of 2016 is that I have gained a new friend. She smiles at me when she sees me in the morning. The smile starts from her eyes and travels to the lips. When I return from swimming, she stops what she is doing and wants to play with me. She sits on my arms as though I am the throne she wants to sit on and see the world. She drives me to take her  to places within our house and outside that she wants to see. She smiles at the Gods in photos as though she knows them well.

She is my grand- daughter Aadya born in 2016. Just as creation of a human being is a wonder presented to us by God, the growth of a baby is equally wonderful. Each first step they take in life is fascinating. Being at home gives more time and opportunity to watch this growth which is almost imperceptible.

I love number 7. So I expect 2017 to bring good tidings to all of us.

Best wishes and happy new year to all .

 

 


MY EXPERIENCE WITH GOOGLE MAPS

October 6, 2016

It was nearing 7.00 p.m. I along with my family were at Andheri west (a Mumbai Suburb) and  decided to visit a relative around three kms away. We looked at the Google Map and it showed a time span of nine minutes and the route.   I was driving.

We started  and soon found ourselves in a narrow and winding road and  in the midst of a fish market.  We asked for directions and they waved the hand in an upward direction. At a narrow turn, in true Indian Tradition, there were vehicles bearing  down  on us with seemingly no place to go. This is where Indian ingenuity sprang up. One old gentle man directed  us upwards with only millimetre of space to spare. My family members were sitting with their hearts in the mouth. Only my granddaughter   was staring with curiosity at the antics of adults.

My car cleared this obstacle and we were then perched on a steep ascent with some vehicles behind.  The Google map was referred to and we took a turn which soon landed us on the top of a hill with a temple on it. There was a taxi unloading some goods. I was wondering where we had reached, when my family members started screaming about a vehicle reversing suddenly towards us. I immediately pushed the accelerator and moved ahead with seconds to spare. If the vehicle (an SUV) had dashed on us, there would have been immense damage to vehicle and perhaps to passengers.

The people on that hill top kindly gave us the directions to go to our destination and also mentioned that the Gaodevi (Village Goddess) temple was a powerful temple. We were shaken with the journey so far and the near miss accident. We offered our mental prayers and thanks to the deity and proceeded to the  destination.

What I found out later was that there is a perfectly good road to our destination. But for some reason, the Google Map persists in showing a route which is perhaps visible only in the satellite. At ground level, it is hardly a road for any kind of vehicle.

I realized  that blind trust on such digital devices (Digital India is our dream) without prior physical corroboration can lead to such disastrous situations. If we are going to an unknown place, it makes sense to check with someone at the destination whether the road we see on the Google Map actually exists, is motorable and whether there are any better roads.  My son told me of a similar instance where he trusted  the Google Map and landed up travelling though rough village  roads with cattle roaming and even crossing a river  on a  ferry along with the car.

It is also a lesson that when you are not certain, using a public transport of any form is safer than adventure driving.

What however remains embedded in my heart is the moment where I averted the SUV dashing against our car. I believe that it was divine intervention more than anything else.

So no blind trust on Google Maps, discriminating and knowledge based use of vehicle when going to unknown places and above all ensuring that God is on your side.

While the first two are within our hands, the last one would remain an unceasing endeavour.

 


Changing Times

September 11, 2016

I looked out of the window. It was raining heavily. I wondered whether it would make any difference to my swimming lessons.  I realized that I cannot get wetter after wading into the pool and decided to leave for the swimming class.

Amongst the various helpful suggestions I received after retirement, learning to swim was a logical one. I had also harbored a secret desire to learn to swim for a long time. There is a swimming pool run by the Municipal Corporation close to where I live. I joined there in August, with a brave heart and a wavering confidence, to learn a new largely physical skill.

I have taken the 9.00 a.m. batch. The participants are mainly senior citizens and school children. There is generally a relaxed atmosphere. The children enjoy the pool making us look back to our childhood. The senior compatriots have come mainly for some relaxed exercise. Many just walk up and down the pool as this is  also said to be a good exercise. There is less of aggressive swimming on the learner side of the pool which is only four feet in depth. This largely helps in not getting an inferiority complex.

I decided to take a different approach (as compared to past) and initiated conversation with those I meet regularly. Some of them are quite helpful and give helpful tips. Many of them look at my attempts with a practised eye and say that I have improved significantly.

There is great pleasure in going one step further each day.  From just trying to flay my legs in the water, I am presently able to swim using hands and legs in a coordinated manner (with the wooden protector around the waist firmly place) This evokes a child like glee within my heart.  But there is a long way to go. There is no deadline, nobody to compete with and no specific goals to reach (except what I impose on myself).  It is only the enjoyment of performing a new activity just for my own happiness.

Having time on my hands does have its own advantage. There is now time to stand, stare and more importantly hear also. It was a unique experience hearing  and learning from my Grandson Shivam on how to swim properly. (He is taught swimming in his school).

I take photographs of whatever catches my eye and put them in my Facebook page. Some of them do get modest appreciation.

Modern technology (Digital Era to quote a famous industrialist and our PM) offers unfailing assistance in time utilisation (gainful or otherwise). Facebook, Youtube and  Whatsapp are like  multiplex showing latest movies without break and free of charge. You can wade through tonnes of material in Facebook, Youtube  and WhatApp for hours together.  Many of us can honestly say (to others with similar strengths) that surfing through these applications are our occupation and get away with it.

One question that I often ask myself is what I miss from the earlier life.

The first thing I observed is that the mobile phone does not ring ( except for spam calls).  Obviously, that is the primary symbol of severing connections with a large number of individuals connected through employment. There are shared memories of trials and tribulations, good and bad times spent together and a belief that there is a bond with these individuals.  All these are like experiences shared during a long rail journey. While the memory remains embedded, the relationship is frozen at the parting moment. So renewing or continuing these relationships in the same form is not possible.

The next is the authority any executive enjoys over co-employees, ability to provide a service or solution and a slot in a hierarchy within an organisation. The loss of this authority and related aspects is akin to the anguish of a baby losing a toy irretrievably. The only difference being the baby can wail loudly and make itself heard. The individual shields the pain of this loss  behind  a thick velvet curtain.  Some where this is balanced by the realization that the price for the above privileges is becoming too expensive in physical and emotional terms and needs to come to an end voluntarily or mandatorily.

But human nature is such that we want best of both the worlds. God smiles and asks us to take a decision and abide by it.

There is a gnawing realisation that while it is easy to while away time doing nothing of consequence, the brain needs more feedstock than wondering what Mr. Arvind Kejriwal is up to in New Delhi.  Cerebral challenge unconnected to pecuniary or employment related needs is largely a novel experience for many of us.  This requires a change in mindset which is  not easy.

This is the real challenge- how to contribute productively to the society which has given so much to all of us. I have some vague ideas which are yet to translate into any concrete form.

God is not bound by the provisions of  human laws which  stipulate that perishable products should display their expiry date. So He sent  us into this world with this aspect being open ended and unknown to us.

May be He is watching us to understand how we are of any use or consequence to our society and the world we live in.

 

 

 


CHANGE OF SEASON

July 19, 2016

“Sorry Sir; no cabs are available”. This was the Meru Cab informing that despite my previous night’s assured booking for a cab to airport, none were available. We were 5 of us with 7 bags (fully loaded). I was flustered. Anand, my son, who is more cool headed, opened his mobile phone, tapped a few buttons and informed that an Uber Innova was available immediately. It seemed god send as it would accommodate men and materials without much ado.

We were proceeding to Coimbatore by Air India (got a great bargain in tickets despite booking only few weeks earlier) which had a generous baggage allowance (25 Kgs check in baggage), wide seats (as against seats suitable in size for malnourished and starving human beings, in other airlines) and “free lunch”. We reached the new Terminal 2 quite early. We looked around the Terminal and were ready to board the aircraft after consuming a mixture of “bought out” items ( Pizza) and “ manufactured” items (Idli bought from home).

There were several firsts in this trip (besides using Air India after a long time). I was not carrying the universal appendage – lap top- as I had none (consequent to my early retirement). I had not booked the return ticket. I had not made any plans for the visits to the temples and relatives in the hinterland ((there are many – relatives and temples- around). Did I feel that time seems to stretch into infinity? May be.

Coimbatore has a pleasant climate for most months of the year. It is a district headquarters and has industries around it. The real estate has boomed in the last few years and a good apartment costs a fortune. The prosperity is visible in growth of new vehicles, crowd at shopping areas (textile and jewellery shops of multiple floors have crowds which would be the envy of any metro shops), expensive schools (a few even offering IB curriculum) and so on. Still, it remains a small town with a conservative populace and an understated show of wealth.

It is also a medical centre for the hinterland. For instance, it has larger dedicated eye hospitals than Mumbai.

I visited a reasonably large organic farm located in a scenic area near Coimbatore. As a city dweller, I had seen only the finished product (vegetables) and not how it grows. The fascination with creation and growth remains eternal. I am giving below some photos to get a flavour of what I mean.

ORGANIC FARM


Tamil Nadu cities are well connected by train and bus (private and Government owned) to most locations within the State and neighbouring one and visits can be planned at short notice. We went to Guruvayoor (Lord Krishna Temple), Tiruchirappali and Ooty (110 kms away).

Guruvayoor, located near Thrissur (Kerala) is a famous Krishna Temple of historical importance attracting large crowds each day. One particular offering (full day’s puja) is booked for a couple of decades and booking is closed now. It is popular for marriages and first rice feeding of children.

Kerala marriages are simple ceremonies of less than 30 minutes with no significant religious rituals. The Temple has put a few elevated enclosures for such marriages on the way to the entrance of the temple. The couple walk in informally clutching flower bouquet to the platform and after a brief ceremony proceed to the temple. It is simple and elegant ceremony fulfilling commitment before God and man.

The first rice feeding ceremony is a pleasure to watch. Small babies of around 6 months or more are made to sit on the lap of the parent. The temple places a small feast of rice and other items before the child on a plantain leaf and it is fed by the parent and other relatives. Some swallow the first morsel of solid food with relish while a few wail. Thereafter they have a darshan of the Lord. It is a fascinating sight and perhaps unique to Kerala. Parents from near and far come to Guruvayoor for this small but significant ceremony .

As mentioned in my earlier blog, Thursday is dedicated to Lord Vishnu (other Gods being allowed to reserve remaining days of the week) and attracts large crowds at Guruvayoor. We reached there on a Thursday at 10 a.m. (around 3 hours drive from Coimbatore) and found a large queue. It took nearly 3 hours to have darshan and come out.

The deity has an indescribable smile and seems to tell you that He knows everything you want to tell. You believe that you have left all your concerns and desires at His feet and He would take care of it in an inimitable way. The weariness of the long wait vanishes after you see the Lord and we wonder when we could come back and spend a few days here.

Tiruchirappali is an ancient town in Tamil Nadu. It has renowned temples like Srirangam (Lord Vishnu) and Uchipillayar (Rock Temple of Lord Ganesha). It is on the banks of river Cauvery. Srirangam temple covers a vast area with roads running through it and several houses falling within the temple compound. It is unique in many ways and needs to be seen at least to understand the size and dimensions.
The Rock Temple is situated literally on a rock for which we have to climb steps for around 30 minutes or so. This temple is also ancient and is part of the cultural and physical landscape. Commerce and religion co- exist and roads around the temple is a shopping area. It has educational institutions like St. Joseph School and College which has illustrious lineage of students.

ROCK TEMPLEUchipillayar temple

The villages on the banks of Cauvery give you an impression that nothing has changed from the past several centuries. Electricity, running water seems to be recent innovation. Ancient traditions and rituals co-exist with the internet era inventions.

Avalanche is a beautiful spot located at an elevation in Ooty. We have to travel by Forest Department buses to reach there. It is a lesser known place and worth visiting.

AVALANCHE

Avalanche 1Avalanche lake

 

The monsoon had commenced in Mumbai and we had missed a few of the flooded days. Mumbai by rains look great- when viewed from a window or a balcony. The rains swept roads glitter and reflect the lights giving a glow.

This bout of enforced idleness was an opportunity to look ahead to the life hereafter. While body needs edible nourishment (emphasis is on “edible”) at regular (or frequent) intervals, the mind requires much larger feedstock. It requires challenges which will arrest diversion into irrelevant areas. Cessation of gainful (is there any other form?) employment closed one compulsory channel of thought and action and converted into a voluntary one on a “nice to know” basis.

The pursuit of knowledge, which has enabled us to earn a living, rarely ceases. The intensity may ebb but the desire to learn subsists though at a pace we determine and not by circumstances. The changes in my area of learning (Company Secretary) are rapid and significant and do not allow us to rest in this pursuit.

Gym enthusiasts would know how to step up pace in the treadmill and bring it back to normal before stepping off it. However, this is more of a physical rather than mental activity. Retirement compels changing the pace of life along with reduction in the feedstock to the brain. The mobile phone falls silent. There are no mails to be replied- with or outside the deadline. There is no queue of colleagues waiting for my pearls of wisdom to resolve real or imaginary issues.

I remember reading that we should keep learning something new constantly. Photography and swimming are on the rather very short list. There are few friends who have stepped off the treadmill and are wondering (like me) whether it is mandatory to be physically and mentally very agile. I will try to meet them up and shoot air.

Writing is a good exercise, but good topics are elusive, with readers being rarer. I wish it were as easy as creating Vikram, Betal and Sindbad stories that I have been doing for my grand children for some years. But then, readers are not as loving and forgiving as the kids.

I have made a Power Point presentation to Lord Krishna ( locally in Mumbai and in Guruvayoor, Kerala) on various options and am sure that with lean season having commenced ( Exam results are announced, Engineering and Medical admissions are over or nearly over) He could devote some attention me first and then to others who are in RAC and Waitlist.

After all doing nothing also requires lot of patience.

I have lots of it.


A NEW BEGINING

April 2, 2016

I thought I could sleep a bit longer. It was 6.20 a.m. when Padma reminded me that I was late. I rushed through the morning rituals, deferred the morning prayers and got ready for the yoga class. The yoga teacher came in time (he was absent yesterday). We practiced for an hour. Some of the asana (postures to put it colloquially) were tough despite our earlier practice.

It was Thursday – Lord Vishnu’s day. Each day of the week is assigned to one or more deities (so that none feel neglected). We went to the nearby Guruvayurappan (Lord Srikrishna) temple. This deity has an enigmatic smile hovering on His face. The smile is enchanting and seems to communicate to us that He can read and heart and brain and may perhaps offer solution to our interminable woes and wants. Due to the enigmatic smile, I believe that a weekly reminder is necessary and I dredged up a revised list and read out from it. Did He hear or listen? Only time will tell.

We returned. I completed my morning prayers and attendant rituals. I then had breakfast and the first coffee of the day. I thought that the yellow shirt is striking enough for the day. I picked up my lunch box, peeped into the prayer room to remind God about the importance of the day and left for office.

It is my last working day. I had resigned a few months back and after some waffling on both sides, I decided that March 31 is an appropriate day to end this journey.

It also represented a conclusion to a journey- or at least the significant portion of it- I had commenced in October 1975. Obviously this is relevant only to me.

I had made a habit of changing employment at irregular intervals during these four decades. So I had a strong immune system which overcame any apprehensions about entering into new employment. Any exit was a prelude to another entry. It was somewhat like seeing different movies in a multiplex. Some features were different while many others (especially human ones) remained unchanged. There was a initial excitement, followed by understanding/acceptance of new reality (more things change, more they remain the same), ennui, boredom, thirst for change, change actually happening, then initial excitement….. And so on.

This time it was different. There is no new employer waiting in the wings eagerly watching my entry. Unlike USA, where it is illegal to ask a potential candidate’s age, in India it is the first thing to be observed. (Too young or too old is unacceptable). The right age today is 35 to 45. They are old enough to have some sort of experience and still young enough to be molded to the employer’s liking.

Each employer has a pretentious belief that they have a “unique culture”. Any such statement only means that they have certain rigidities which would be seen as rather odd by any sensible person. If you belong to this age group (35 to 45) and somehow are able to convince that you would fit into this “unique culture”, you would be considered seriously.

I am close to the date (few months left) where Indian Railways would give me a 40% discount on their tickets. So any further assignment should have mental excitement, application of experience and knowledge. Otherwise, it would be more exciting to purchase a 2 tier AC ticket (at 40% discount) to Tezpur, Assam and then proceed to Tawang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh. Sun rises first in Arunachal Pradesh and realistically their local time is two hours ahead of Indian Standard Time.

I reached Office somewhat late. I had kept some last minute tasks for completion. There were streams of visitors, mails to be replied, and drawers to be cleared. Time moved swiftly. I handed over my most precious asset- computer laptop- and then sat back. An executive bereft of laptop is somewhat akin to being under dressed at a formal wedding . That is our link to the outside world. We do not bat an eyelid to send a mail to the person sitting on the opposite side of the table. That is modern communication.

The formal farewell function was performed two days earlier. Today was the informal one from the colleagues. There was great warmth and affection reflected. I could practice my public speaking skills to a captive audience.

I looked back into the building where I worked for the last 18 months and proceeded back to my home.

I wondered on what basis 58 or 60 years of age is selected as retirement age. Why not a 59 or 61? Is there any medical evidence of significant atrophy of our grey cells around that age? Or is that a strategic age or a beginning of one to be compelled to shift focus to “baby care” a second time around? After all, if the entire family goes off to work, who or how would be progeny be cared for? May be there are some Senior Citizens Forum who may give gratuitous or paid guidance on such sensitive matters?

I have no clue of how I would deal with the sudden change in pace. All those who know me, seem to believe that I have a phobia for continuous activity and its cessation would cause serious withdrawal symptoms. I am not sure whether I have any antipathy for idleness.

Past weighs heavily on us. But then, it can or should serve only as a guide for future actions. We spend most of our lives trying to satisfy someone else’s wants and needs. The result is we rarely have a clue what gives us maximum happiness or satisfaction. I read a remark by an expatriate that Indians generally focus on work or employment and rarely develop a hobby for themselves. I have seen resumes which call surfing internet, watching television/cricket matches as hobby.

I am not too different. I am asked by those close to me on whether I know what I would like to do after retirement. I had no answer to it. I gave some vague reply and thought I will take each day as it comes.

One interesting suggestion I have received (from another person close to me) is that I should draw up a list of activities enumerating all I wanted to do but have not done. I wondered whether Skydiving, trekking to Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar , seeing Victoria waterfall ( Africa) and Isuzu waterfall (Argentina), driving through New Zealand ( to see the places shown in the movie Lord of Rings) are practical desires.

Do Home makers have retirement age? I have no answer to this question . I can only promise that I would share the tasks which go with running a household.
Would I refuse another job offer if it lands on my doorstep? ( Lord Guruvayurappan with His enigmatic smile may be running a case study on human ambivalence for his other disciples). To use official language, I do not reply to speculative questions.

What do I miss or what I would miss from my pre-retirement life? Pecuniary strength, power I exercised over other human beings and matters, recognition associated with the chair I sat on and perhaps a sense of purpose ( dictated mostly by what the employer wanted or demanded).

What would I not miss or what I would gleefully watch from a distance? The pain and trauma that ( I believe ) someone else would undergo in my place while doing what I was doing earlier, the lack of any need to take decision on touchy or tricky matters.

One last thought. Do I know how I could contribute to the world around me based on my experience and (limited) ability? Would I have the initiative to learn new things and ideas? Would I take sensible precautions to ensure that my health does not deteriorate? Would I make new friends? ( not that I have many now).

Do I know how long I will have to do all this? This I will leave it to that God with enigmatic smile to decide.

March 31, 2016.


BATTLE OF THE BULGE

February 28, 2016

I looked at the image in the mirror with some admiration. The slim fit sky blue Zodiac Shirt gifted to me seemed to sit on me without displaying any unfavorable protuberance. At my age 4 mm reduction in waist size is a matter to rejoice. It is the result of severe austerities- which included avoiding Indian delicacies like Vada Pav, Punjabi Samosa, Hot, brown medu vada, all varieties of Bhajii and so on. I shut my eyes when I see them.

When did I commence this battle?

Youth is the time when one can ignore a lot of things. We can eat what we desire, do not have to adhere to any particular discipline for it (time and quantum), be not worried about calorie intake and burnout. The bulge slowly creeps in ignored/unnoticed. Around 35 years to 40 years is the crucial time for this mishap. We are in hot pursuit of career/pecuniary progress, balancing family and office pressures (and mostly failing), and so on. In the midst of all this, having a lean and mean body is the last priority.

This was my experience too.

Around this age, there are few maniacs who make it a point to start going to gym and strut their fitness. Also there are a few human specimen who due to genetic or other unknown factors do not put on weight. Such individuals pose danger to your status quo existence. It is during this period the bulge seems to be an unwanted nuisance and some token efforts are needed to get rid of it.
I too succumbed to such pressures and started visiting a local gym at reasonably regular intervals. I came to know of phrases like Body Mass Index – which indicate one’s obesity or lack of it. Your “Vital Statistics” are recorded at regular intervals for your consumption. I recently came across one such sheet of early 2000 and looked at it with longing. I wish I had retained those body levels.

I had also learnt Yoga in early 90s and practiced it at sporadic intervals.
Now, physical exercises are one way of burning our excess calories and also making our body more fit for a longer duration of existence. Consistency is the key to success in this as in any other endeavor. Also the food (and drink- if one takes alcoholic drinks) intake should be controlled. Otherwise, it would be equivalent to trying to fill a leaking vessel.

Gym attracts two categories of individuals. First is the regulars. These individuals are already present there- even if you go at 5.50 a.m. or 8.45 p.m. and would be hard at it when you leave. These are body builders (out of jealousy I believed only their muscles were strengthened and cerebral strength had remained unchanged for at least a decade or more. They lift heavy weights with seeming ease and plonk it down loudly. You can see them staring at themselves intently and admiringly in the mirror (gyms have mirrors all over).

These individuals are not relevant as seeing their body fitness can induce serious inferiority complex and depression. The efforts of such individuals should not informed to spouses as a measure of “abundant caution”.

Rest fall under the residual category. For this blog, only those with grey or greying hair / expanding or expanded waistline are relevant. These are the “King Bruce and the Spider” category (famous for the “try, try, try again’ saying) without equivalent success. We size each other and casually seek the reason for venturing into such unknown territory at an advancing age. Some whisper about medical compulsion and some speak of desire for general well-being (read domestic pressures).

How effective is Gym? As in any other effort, consistency and discipline make the difference. The basic concept is that the calorie burnout should be higher than the intake. Most of us violate this discipline. The net result is that we seem to be running to stand in the same place or sometimes even seem to fall behind.

Another aspect is the quality of supervision at the gym. If the instructor takes proper interest and keeps rotating the exercises to be done every day, then the results are positive. Doing the same exercises continuously has certain limitation.

You may also retain a Personal Trainer. This means that you will pay additional fees to one instructor who will be with you on 3 or 4 days week supervising your exercise and teaching you new tricks regularly. In the midst of these efforts, the certain joints and muscles of the body scream at you. But the net effect is positive- subject to the calorie intake and burnout being balanced.

Yoga is well known but little understood. Padma and I learnt Yoga IN 1994/1995 through an NGO who were conducting classes free of cost at a municipal school. The teachers were working professionals who were teaching as a calling and not for any remuneration. They taught well and in disciplined manner such that a decent portion of it remains fresh in our memory even now.

Yoga grows with steady practice. I believe that it strives to achieve a balance between mind and body. All know that it is an ancient science which has survived for several millenniums. Such survival is not possible unless it has significant substance. Our Ramdev Baba has made Yoga popular with Television Channel based classes. However, it would not be prudent to stare at the TV screen and emulate the actions performed there.

My experience is that regular Yoga practice keeps one fresh for the whole day and even after a full day’s work, tiredness is not felt. The key is that ideally it should be performed after gaining reasonably expert knowledge and preferably under supervision of a good teacher.

While there are many Yoga Masters, not all have the level and degree of understanding needed to understand and appreciate individual needs. Most classes are held for few weeks and then the individuals are left to fend for themselves. This leads to irregular continuity and practice.

Yoga cannot be viewed as a measure for weight reduction. As said earlier, it is meant for physical and mental fitness. Weight reduction requires higher calorie burnout and proper diet. Yoga would help but is not a remedy for it.
What are the challenges I faced or face now?

The first one is consistency. Getting up around 5.30 a.m. 5/6 days a week requires good will power especially our sleep duration becomes compressed due to long working hours/travelling time.

The next is our food habits. Late dinner is equivalent to filling up the petrol tank at the end of the journey rather than at the beginning. The excess calories just settle at the wrong places. Another issue we face is the craving for snacks around 5.00 p.m. to 6.00 p.m. That is the ideal time to consume grilled sandwiches, deep fried snacks and all types of wrong food.
The other usual issues are interruption due to travelling and other pressures.

Another aspect I have noticed is performing the same set of exercises (mentioned earlier) based on the belief that “I know better than the new trainer who has joined only last month”. There is declining return unless exercises are performed under proper supervision and focus on different parts of the body during the week.

Am I winning the battle now? I am making sincere attempts. As mentioned at the beginning, some millimeter change is visible. Will it continue? That would be interesting to watch.

I will be happy if few more millimeters are lost.

Let us wait and watch.


Indian Meetings IV

December 9, 2015

S peeped into my cabin. He asked “aren’t you joining for the meeting? I had forgotten about it. Together we went to our senior colleague K who made some tart remark about being still around and hence would be joining the meeting.

An outside vendor V was invited to make a presentation on a software relating to our area. He was the owner of the business and had gained a smattering of technical knowledge to survive and grow.

No meeting is complete, unless a few individuals totally unconnected with the subject of the meeting and/or having no knowledge thereof, is present. They serve as a buffer against any informed discussion and swift decision on the matter.

K sensed something amiss after seeing the “unconnected/ignorant” crowd (UI in brief). He suddenly recalled that there were few other colleagues who had knowledge of the subject and should be asked to rush to the meeting dropping all else. My immediate colleague walked in after few minutes wondering what the sudden emergency was. I indicated that he needed mental and physical relaxation from his intense work schedule and hence this sudden call.

K took these brief moments to commence his favorite past time – verbal ambush. As the word indicates, it is practiced on those least expecting it and is designed to surprise, disarm and confuse the other party. The attack starts with a seemingly innocent question asked after ensuring that the other party is completely ignorant of the answer. Once the ignorance level was assured, then the interrogation is commenced (similar to Shri Rakesh Maria of Mumbai Police with Smt. Sheena Bora).

V tried to look suitably attentive and intelligent during the ambush while wondering whether he should go back to doing what he was qualified to do (Civil Engineering). He gave some vague and evasive replies. Some UI felt that their contribution was needed and raised some stupid queries. By this time, it was realized that all were present and the presentation could commence.

V commenced his spiel. He referred to the automation part of the software. One of the UI awoke and asked a question which seemed to indicate that he expected our Senior Executives to slide out of the computer screen consequent to the automation. V expressed regret at the inability of the software to perform such wonders.

V described the features of his package, which seemed very basic. This seemed like a god sent opportunity to ask him about features which obviously were not there. V was asked to answer with “yes” or “no” for facilities which needed far better understanding of the requirements. V looked as though he had swallowed a balloon, stared intently at the laptop and with a seemingly intelligent look and said that customization would be possible.

K had not finished. He conveyed that the software should have (divine) ability to grasp what its diverse customers would need without any human intervention. Another chap asked how the package would help the Big Boss to know that his underlings have performed what they are paid (or underpaid) to do. I was keen to know whether such a software which could confirm performance existed as they could be dangerous. Bosses should always live with a sense of uncertainty and need for his subordinates. Software which could substitute or confirm proper and complete performance should be left to BPOs and IT Sector- which any way recruit Engineers the way grains are collected after harvest – in quintals.

By now, V felt that he should defend himself from overt and covert attack. He dredged up his mental energy and resources. He confidently asserted that all that is sought or needed would be available. He could show a “demo”, but some technical problem he could not link with his HO. The computer would fill up forms and reach it to their destination with little human intervention (other than completing the form, saving it, opening the web site, loading it, pressing the right commands etc.). I got the impression that the package would enable the computer to do all the above tasks at night when we are asleep. As a measure of caution, I desisted from raising this query.

K by now had a doubt whether those present had sufficient appreciation of his profound and infinite knowledge of the subject. So he presented complicated scenarios for automation. V now felt that some degree of honesty is needed. He said that he has a basic package to be used by small time consultants. All improvements would need to be customized to fill specific needs. He confessed that he had some lowly paid fresh /limited experience professionals to help him to develop/ screen the package and he could not show some brilliant lineage to support his package.

Some of the UI asked some intelligent sounding questions to record their presence. Others stared intently at V and the Screen alternately to indicate that they are keenly following the discussions.
The persons who had to actually put it to use remained silent as it seemed not worthwhile to waste their thoughts or breathe.
V by now was thoroughly exhausted and made a quick exit.

The Meeting ended after some sporadic discussion on further efforts in the matter.

Some of us wondered what was achieved. The persons who arranged the meeting had little knowledge of the end result required. The vendor V had the package meant for a very basic use which needed huge efforts to make it relevant for us. The chaps who were vocal at the meeting had no knowledge of how either the package operates or how the end result is achieved. The views of the persons who actually would need some degree of automation to reduce the drudgery were neither asked their views nor did they volunteer it.

The Meeting reinforced my fond view that these are held for mental and physical relaxation and munch some snacks. For any genuine decision, we pray to God, believe in providential intervention, have an Indian outlook that something will happen and if all these fail, work hard for it.

What do you feel?


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