Tretar 18, Making Choices

[This post is the eighteenth in an ongoing series for Project Tretar. You can read previous posts here]

Life shouldn’t be hard. And the hardest part is usually about making choices. Each moment, we are making a choice. For example, you are making a choice right now to read this article. Your choices this morning will determine how you feel rest of the day. You will decide which doors to open and which to keep shut.

Mandu-white-darwaza

Back in New York, once I made a choice to enroll for a class in ‘Animal Sketching’ at Museum of Natural History. When we entered the Museum at 7 pm after it was closed to the public, it seemed like a whole different world with silent animals glaring from behind the glass showcases. We sat there for an hour sketching whatever we wanted (see a sketch here). It was a long ride back home on those winter evenings. It made no sense for a software engineer to be taking this class except that I wanted to do it and I chose to do it.

Similarly, we decide who should be and should not be in our lives (well, apart from parents). Remember that you are in someone’s life because they choose to keep you. And that’s a golden rule. Earn your place in their life and keep them if they have earned a place in yours. Any other equation just doesn’t work in personal relationships. Love is nothing but a choice because there is no perfect human being. Anyone who loves anyone else is making a choice to make them special in their life. Someone who doesn’t value the choice you are making about them probably doesn’t deserve a place in yours and vice versa.

My favorite poet Gulzar has written an amazing song on choices and its my favorite song too. I recently happened to go to Mandu on an impromptu trip (again a choice that I’m glad I made outside my comfort zone) and the ruins there reminded me of this song.

Is mod se jaate hain
Kuchh sust qadam raste, kuchh tez qadam raahe
Patthar ki haveli ko, sheeshe ke gharoundo me
Tinkon ke nasheman tak is mod se jaate hain

[From this turn, diverge
few lazy lanes, few fast paced paths (talking about the choices in lifestyle)
to some stone castles, to some glass houses (talking about stability and fragility)
to some delicate nests]

Aandhi ki tarah udakar ik raah guzarati hai
Sharamaati hui koi qadamo se utarati hai
In reshami raaho me ik raah to vo hogi
Tum tak jo pahuchati hai is mod se jaati hai

[One lane passes like a whirlwind
one descends from the feet shyly
At least one path in these silky paths should be
the one that reaches you]

Ik dur se aati hai, paas aake palatti hai
Ik raah akeli si rukti hai na chalti hai
Ye sochke baithi hun, ik raah to vo hogi
Tum tak jo pahuchti hai is mod se jaate hain

[One comes from a distant, turns close by
one solitary lane neither moves nor stops
I am just thinking that there is one lane here
that will reach you, from this turn]

You cannot see in future and you can’t predict the results and yet all you can do is make a choice right now. Best meter for evaluating the goodness of a choice, in my experience, comes from the heart. If it urges you to do something, try it. You may not see the road right now but in hindsight that road will be the most glorious you could take.

@Oprah_World: Sometimes the wrong choices bring us to the right places.

P.S. For contextual exposition on this song, check out this old post – “What does ‘is mod se jaate hain’ mean?”

  

Tretar 17, Stay True to Yourself

[This post is the seventeenth in an ongoing series for Project Tretar. You can read previous posts here]

paintingandoriginal

I am feeling a mixed bag of emotions this day. My book is about to release and as some early reviews are pouring in, I can’t help reminiscing. And that is why I am cheating for this post of Tretar, I am going back to this very very old picture that formed the inspiration for my first original attempt at Oil on Canvas. I must be such an egotist to paint a self-portrait! But, lets ignore that. This is who I truly am – someone gazing afar, reflecting on life, content in solitude. And just like I have made the colors more vivid in my painting, I add colors in my perceptions. This painting is probably the onset of my creative journey in life; the point when I discovered something more than an engineer in myself; something more than ‘what I am supposed to be’. This painting told me that it is possible to be someone you want to be – a painter at that time. And, although this painting may be full of flaws, it had made me ecstatic. Once you know you are a creator, it is hard to tell yourself that you aren’t. And whatever events have transpired in my life since then, I have found myself most peaceful when I have been closest to creating.

And today, Seven Conversations has brought me back to this starting point. I think I have done justice to whatever little talent God gave me as an artist and I want to keep building on it. I can confess that I have tried to fit in and chase things that I was supposed to chase but none of it made me happy. It is the first time in life that I feel truly alive. And it makes me realize how important it is to stay true to ourselves.

Sometimes, I meet these couples who are totally different in each others’ companies than they are individually. That is a great sign to know whether a person is living naturally or pretending to be someone else. It is good to adapt for people we love but it is perhaps not advisable to bend beyond limits because it is unsustainable. I have seen many happy couples too – they are the ones who are comfortable with each other in their natural form. Similarly, there are so many professionals who are convincing themselves that their lives are what it is supposed to be and that they should enjoy it. But the truth is, what you enjoy can only be determined by you and there is no ‘supposed to’ when it comes to pleasure.

To end, I would just share this gem from Anais Nin for this says it all.

You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.Anaïs Nin

Please wake up.

  

Tretar 16, the Girl with the Tattered Jeans

[This post is the sixteenth in an ongoing series for Project Tretar. You can read previous posts here]

There’s a pair of jeans that I love. It is almost 6 or 7 years old and it has seen many different days. I wore it to such an extent that the threads started baring at the knees and the thigh. Even that looked good and in vogue, so I kept wearing it. A day came when the threads started breaking. Although the torn patch isn’t the concern, the weakness of the fabric had started building around that hole and the hole started magnifying. As a corroded vessel, the strain started testing the nearby threads and multiple holes started appearing in no time. However, I was still hell bent on not losing my beloved jeans and I went to a tailor, got it patched up and there I was wearing it again.

I can’t help feeling how similar the threads of relationship are. You nurture a relationship with great love and care when its new. But however good the bond be, signs of stress start showing up at edges and weakest points. The people who value the relationship know that one can enjoy even the existence of holes. As the holes grow bigger and if I still treasure it so much and am not willing to let it go at any cost, I will mend it. It boils down to how important the jeans are to me.
- Has it become like new again? No, but I like it vintage now. I like the faded shades and hanging threads, it has its own charms.
- Does it mean that no new holes will appear? Again, no. It is getting old and it will strain out. Everything does, it will need maintenance and care.
- Also, shall I do this for all the pairs of jeans I own? Probably not, I don’t cherish them all this much.
- The more important point is to remember that some dresses you might like won’t even be made of denim. I have a lovely silk kurti that got ripped once. I can’t mend and wear it even if I want. The fabric doesn’t lend itself to repairs without showing the damage done. Not everything is redeemable. I hope you don’t get too attached to your silk kurtis.

tretar16small

I love this story of the tattered denim and wish I could convert it to a poem but I am no Frost. He could write about the ‘Mending Walls‘; I am merely a mortal, a girl with tattered jeans. All I would say is ‘Something there is that does love a worn out denim’.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”Robert Frost

  

A Day at Morpheus

I have blogged about the crazy day in Chandigarh but what made that trip worthwhile was the time I got to spend at the Morpheus HQ with Sameer and Nandini. They need no introduction to the world of Indian startups but my admiration for them comes from their different values and way of working than typical VCs and mentors.

After being in touch with Sameer for over a year, he had invited me to be a part of the Morpheus Gang. At this point, I didn’t have a growing startup or anything but somewhere the values matched I guess. What sold me was their focus on entrepreneur’s happiness and not commercial success. In today’s world when the expectations to succeed are pushing great founders to the edge (so many suicide stories come to mind), Morpheus chooses to let them enjoy what they are doing. I knew I wanted to meet them in person at some point but didn’t expect to get the opportunity so soon.

During my 2-3 days stay at their home/office, I got to participate in their startup meetup, meet the core team in the accelerator and spend a lot of time with Sameer, Nandini and their lovely family (super awesome parents and a creative daughter). In this short time, I got to experience their startup philosophy, spiritual bent of mind which expands from their daughter’s progressive school to every aspect of their lifestyle and a peek into what drives them. Right from the success of their original startup to now helping a portfolio of exciting startups, they are doing what they love. In an age where VCs have become a gambling agent, it is refreshing to see their decision to move to a non-financial engagement where startups can gain from their experience without entangling in a financial give and take.

We start as takers – taking from our parents, teachers etc – then become traders – trading work for money and thats where most people stop. But we wanted to evolve to being a giver and thats what our new model focuses on,” Sameer said over a cup of Amla tea. Everything in their home gels with their nonmaterialistic approach to life. He told me how he is researching on unlocking ‘intuition’ in our minds. The conversation went from how he had found some resonance in Sri Aurobindo’s work to how he found that spirituality has lately given him more answers than science. I chit chatted about some crazy parts of my book as well and can’t wait to send him a copy when it prints. He gave me ‘The Life Divine – Sri Aurobindo‘ to read.

morpheus

Next day, he took me to the alternative education school Coveda where his daughter is studying. It is a small school that promotes learning by curiosity and practice as opposed to structured rote learning. It currently has 30 students under various age groups. There are no standards or curriculum. It is run by passionate people (most of who are parents of the kids who study here) who wanted to give their kids a chance to learn in most natural way possible. The philosophy is to help a child become what comes most naturally to her. If this wasn’t an education revolution, then I don’t know what is. To hell with all the political bullshit around ‘free education’ or ‘lets teach India’ blah blah, I wish we could embrace such methodology and be open about it. Sameer rightly pointed that such structures are most likely to flourish only in small numbers, if there would be too many students, the learning and focus on each child would diminish.

No, its not a franchise because thats again not the purpose of this school. It is being run by and for the people who truly care about their children’s learning. Whether it will ever become mainstream is perhaps not the question, but I genuinely hope that we see more of these in all cities soon. Perhaps the next education upheaval in India should not be about a product but changing the perception about education itself. It is hard to describe the ambience or feel of this quaint 5 room school, so I thought I’ll capture it in the lens.

covedapremise covedastudents covedatree covedalibrary

I think I was destined to meet them and it was a new chapter in my journey of self-exploration. I always used to wonder that ‘abhi to kuch achieve kiya hi nahi hai life me‘ but after meeting them I realized that ‘the achievement would be to not feel the need of achieving anymore’. He said that magic happens when your work aligns with your true self. I agree.

  

Tretar 15, a Journey on Rails

[This post is the fifteenth in an ongoing series for Project Tretar. You can read previous posts here]

Happy Independence Day!

Trains are interesting to me and I have used them twice in the book for different purposes. First is the reference to Indian Railways (which always fascinate me by the stories they have to tell) and the other is slightly out of this world. I’ll leave the second one for the book, but here are few lines from the first reference and a snapshot from Chandigarh railway station.

Tretar16 - Railways

What can one say about railway stations? And that too the Indian ones? These harbors of persistent and constant commuting are a true reflection of any country’s populace and so it shouldn’t be surprising to find chaos, crowd, poverty and resilience well and truly alive in here. The bickering and haggling between coolies and travelers might make a first world citizen stare in shock but when such a service is available in abundant supply, who will pay two hundred bucks to carry 5-6 suitcases across three platforms? For fifty rupees or so, one can find many willing porters putting unspeakable weights of luggage on their head and lanky shoulders and run up and down the stairs. If one were to give Olympic medals based on weight-one-can-carry to body-mass ratio, these coolies could probably beat professional weight lifting athletes. When a hungry stomach growls, a body develops the stamina without gym and protein shakes. When one is eating only one meal a day, it’s not a matter of shame to sleep on the station floor with no chaadar. When one is barely making ends meet, hygiene or its lack of thereby becomes a non-issue.

The air was filled with the smell of rodents, tea, sweat, piss and shit. The upper classes grimaced and covered their noses, the common man walked off. Indian railways carry a record 25 million passengers every day. When a train stops at a platform, the class distinction in Indian society manifests itself in the descending and ascending lot of passengers. Couple of elites from first AC, a handful of middle classes from second and third AC coaches, a multitude of lower classes from sleeper and general coaches – the constitution displays the fragmented Indian society in its crude reality.

Nistha Tripathi, Seven Conversations