January 2028


Envisioning the future is a unique talent, here we delve into the visions of  fellow Nirmal Karta as he talks about his personal interpretation of an idyllic life. A fine peppering of Zen philosophy some good old common sense and plenty of zest for life, a fine piece for an afternoon’s rumination.

 

2028, January 1st, 01:00 AM.

A new year that would probably have been like the 40 odd new years of my past, had it not been “that” stray thought which whizzed through the channels of my brain at the strike of 12. Describing that thought in the language of words and reason cannot do enough justice to the emotional effect that it had on me. It wasn’t alien; it wasn’t a perfect stranger at my doorstep. No, I had seen it almost 15 years back. A question whose answer I couldn’t even possibly comprehend what it could be. I still can’t.

 

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

 

A koan is a riddle or a story which, when told by a Zen master to his student, has the potential of shocking that particular student into a state of consciousness known as satori – Japanese jargon for ‘sudden’ enlightenment. In this state of consciousness, all distinctions and evaluations you’ve ever had about the outside world evaporate in a puff of white incense, leaving you with a profound admiration of the unity in the universe and of all the experiences possible in the universe. There’s no logical or scientific response to the thought; merely a humble but profound “Wow!” reaction. But how does this thought have anything to do at all with what I’m now, in this present moment in time and space?

 

Liberating myself from the focused pursuit of money in this dog-eat-dog world had been no easy task. In other words, it is imperative to draw a line of distinction between profession and business, in terms of their end goals. A business generates your wealth whereas a profession generates your salary. Still not clear enough? As of now, I have close to a dozen different sources of passive income that keeps building my wealth irrespective of whether I’m relaxing in my cultured marble bathtub or I’m out preaching life to the masses – a motley mixture of paper and real estate assets in India. Wealth is not measured in terms of money; it’s a measure of time – the time you can survive, starting from the instant you say a loud NO to ‘actively’ working for money. Although that nugget of wisdom seems like it just came out of a run-of-the-mill fortune cookie, it had helped me understand a profound thing or two about humanity. As the Australian aboriginal saying goes, We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are all just passing through. Our Purpose here is to Observe, to Learn, to Grow, to Love and then, We Return Home. Work, as we define it today, is the source of nearly all misery in this world and the “office culture” essentially consists of the totality of all totalitarian controls in the workplace – “office discipline” is what the factory and the office have in common with schools and prisons and mental asylums. I’ve reached a point in my life where I can lock myself in my penthouse on the 30th floor, set amidst the clouds of the Bangalore sky, and still live the rest of my life with my accumulated “wealth”. But that’s not what I want or intend to do. Wealth has freed me from the chains and shackles forged by the concept of work, which has opened up new horizons to invest time and effort into. As I sit here writing, safely ensconced in my den with a delicious Marlboro Red placed between my lips and an Italian crystal glass of the best Jack Daniels Tennessee whisky – a personal favorite – I ponder over what I want to do about something close to my heart –Education.

 

15 years back, only 10% of India’s burgeoning student population ended up receiving professional college education. Sadly, the numbers haven’t changed much since then. The whole education system’s bogus, if you ask me. Children are whisked off to concentration camps called “schools”, primarily to keep them out of Mom’s hair but still under control, incidentally to acquire the habits of obedience and punctuality so necessary for workers. The system educates creativity out of these kids, focusing just on the brain and that too, only one half of it. If I had known what I know now back when I was a child, I would have had second thoughts about getting “educated” in a system that sees the human body merely as a vessel to transport the heads. I do not know how to achieve it, but I envision a future where play substitutes work. “Work” – That’s such a dreadful term, a Pandora’s box of sorts with waves of negative energy trapped inside it. The “playful attitude” should not be confused with aimless loafing around. It’s much more than that. Play is voluntary. What might otherwise be play is work if it’s forced. The attitude doesn’t stem from “a suspension of consequences”. The point is that it’s not without consequences. That demeans the concept of play. The point is that the consequences, if any, are gratuitous. In such a system, children should be teachers, not students. They embody the spirit of “play” and the adults can learn a lot from them. Adults and children are not identical but they can become equal through interdependence. Only play can bridge the generation gap, I feel. With those thoughts in mind and time in my hands, I hope to create a revolution in the same system whose inadequacies and blemishes I had observed during my journey in this world. Maybe not now, but definitely ‘then’.

 

So, what is the sound of one hand clapping? It became a part of my core personal philosophies since the time I’d heard it from a friend of mine. You cannot wrap your mind around it. You’re not supposed to. Hence, my path to, for lack of a better word, enlightenment began with accepting the fact that control is an illusion and nirvana is not about attaining some far-out state of consciousness. Life’s illogical and absurd at times. It confounds reason. At the end of the day, it’s all about being in the here and now. To quote from a favorite book of mine, “What we have trouble getting is how enlightened consciousness can be both ordinary and transcendent simultaneously”. Destroy your ego, detach yourself and be an observer. Sounds too much to handle? Here’s one more koan then, before you transcend all sounds and reach the soundless sound:

 

What did your original face look like before you were born?” 

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Anunaya Chaubey Writes


At the Young India Fellowship, we have the coolest deputy dean you could wish for. Do you not believe us? While we revel in his wonderful company, you can read up more about Anunaya Chaubey here. The beautiful poem that follows is by him. 

I paint a tree 

because I want to feel like one

because I want to know one

because today I  want to be one.

Summer In My Head


Nina Sud is a graduate in literature who is also an actor. She originally thought of this during a theatre workshop where you had to come up with a story revolving around a prop and narrate it in character. Her prop was a pair of spectacles. 

And  it’s summer time again.

Summer somehow always seems to be the season for transition. Winter is more static, with the weather making it too tough to really be doing much more than sitting in the blanket and planning out details of the summer months. With the days growing longer the playtime of the children in the park increases, the number of people on the road increases and so does the number of ice cream carts. Strangely, the worse the weather gets, the more reasons I am given to be outside the comfort of my home and braving the sun.

The race for colleges in The University of Delhi has started again. Last year I was a part of the race. After years of reading articles about it and seeing pictures of students check cut off lists and fill forms, I was one of the people those articles spoke about. It’s the same thing that happens year after year, just with a different group of people. And each group feels its experiences are unique.

My first memory is a hazy one, the kind of blurred flashback you could expect to see on a movie- With the voices coming from far away and a five year olds laughter as the soundtrack. But the first summer I can remember is more important.  That summer begun with us moving to a new city. My parents always had spectacles or so it seemed to me then and that summer my older sister got a pair too.   Change was something I was still learning to cope with. Fitting in was an art I still had to master. The exclusion of being the only one different in my family, the one place I ALWAYS fitted into was hard. Yes, so not having specs is not really standing out in a big way or doesn’t mean you’re not accepted but try explaining that to a scared, insecure 6 year old. My mother had told me not to wear the specs because they would spoil my eyes and if I did, I’d need a big pair too. Little did mother know that ever since I learnt this, I would stand on a stool in front of the bathroom mirror, wearing a pair of specs too big for me, wondering how long it would take for my eyes to get spoilt. Funnily enough I still don’t need specs even 13 years later.

I know how it is to have my entire world and everything in it change. I like that.  Facebook, Orkut, BBM are all too recent to have counted for anything in our childhoods. You couldn’t always keep in touch with people like you can now. You couldn’t know every single detail of their existence through their status. You moved and you made new friends. If you were lucky you would run into them years later in a different city when you were a different person. But you weren’t that lucky every time.  College was a new adventure and just the right time period. It would be over before I got bored of it. I convinced myself of the truth of this statement when I was preparing myself for college.

That summer when it started was filled with dreams and expectations of the summers to come. But it was also a reminder of the first one I remember. A little girl on a bathroom stool who only wanted to ‘fit in’. The little girl had stayed in me. I didn’t know it then but the specs changed into other things according to the situations I would find myself  in and what it was that I wanted to fit into.The specs would change into a harry potter book when I was 8, a guitar when I was 13, a cigarette when I was 16…it would change into so many different things later in my life that I eventually stopped recognizing their symbolism.

There were a lot of changes after that summer I had to learn to deal with. A lot of them are yet to come. In a lot of situations I’m the only one comfortable to step into the limelight and it is easy for me to keep to it and ignore the ones in the shadows- All those years of moving have given me the gift of dealing with change in the best way possible. But the memory of the six year old with her mother’s specs never let me do that. The six year old in me recognizes the same in the others. All of us are trying to fit in, all of us are trying to find a place in the world.

I still smile at the memory of that summer.  The summer whose memory guides all the summers that follow.

The specs in my hand have turned into a pen now. But this time, they not only helped me fit in. They help me reach out.

If it isn’t the lost six year olds in us that help each other out and recognize each other in times of need, we’re going to have a tough time being adults.

Books, Writing & I


This is an opinion piece by our in house author, Harsh Snehanshu. Other than reading his books-available at your nearest bookstore- you can also follow him on twitter or read through his blog.

I live in a hostel. Whenever I go to someone’s room, I pick up books and flip through some of the pages. Sometimes it happens to be Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music where I read about him talking about the song that the narrator composes in the E minor scale, or sometimes, it’s Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel, where I admire his confidence at naming the title so, for what if the novel is not actually great. I find a lot of Ayn Rand’s books in these rooms, while one of my hostel-mates is a fan of Edward De Bono and his personal library is stacked up with his books. I tried reading De Bono once, but gave it up too soon after finding him bragging about all the accolades he had won in the first three pages. But my friend tells me his logic is flawless and his ideas on effective thinking are very original and insightful. I nod unconsciously.

Sometimes I walk into someone’s room and just stare at the books, without actually reading them. I fear I might end up distorting the order in which they are meticulously arranged if I take one of them out. I resist my urge in such cases. I saw this book Siddhartha by Herman Hesse resting on a shelf and I immediately wanted to read it; I flipped through a few pages, got riveted but suddenly it dawned upon me that if I allowed myself to be swayed by this book, I’d end up reading it completely at the cost of my studies. So I stopped and planned to read it later. Much like writing, where I keep some plots to be written later when my thinking and writing evolves, I exercise the same with my reading. Some books, for example Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine, are meant to be read when my grey hair turns entirely white. However, the greatest pleasure is to catch the flavour of the book by opening any random page, reading any random paragraph and breathing in the fragrance it carries, both in words and that of paper. Last night, I opened a random page of Thayil’s Narcopolis and read through his limpid description of an opera singer’s affair with the taxi driver just because she couldn’t believe when he said that he’d never heard opera before, and she consciously went to his place to sing for him. Isn’t it so simple, yet so profound?

I not only read books, or stare at them, I also read about books. I love reading interviews of authors, I have keen interest in their lives, about how they have lived their lives – for example, yesterday I started reading The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Hemingway and I could relate to it so much, especially about the fear that a writer feels when he is about to die – what would happen to all his plots which he has kept for the future? I can talk about celebrated books for hours without actually having read them because I would, in all probability, would have gone through their book’s blurbs or author interviews. I like writers. I like books. I like reading. No wonder I like writing. I see my fourth book on my roommate’s shelf, kept neatly above all the other books. I had made him buy it when he came for my book talk last month. I look at my name, I don’t like its font – I had even told my publisher, but they did not change it. I look at it for some time, pondering; though I’m immensely proud and happy about it, it is not written for people of all ages, it is not timeless, which makes me restless. I wish to have one such book written by me stacked up here which a young hosteler like me would see, flip through, start reading, and would only get up after finishing it, irrespective of study or assignments the next day. Yes, that’s the writing I wish to do.