Of Mars

India has successfully launched a Mars Mission. Search Google for “MOM” (Mars Orbiter Mission) or “Mangalyaan”, if you do not know what’s going on.

I am proud about the effort of the scientists at ISRO (India’s Space Agency). I do not understand much of the science about it (apart from what is commonsensical). My sense of pride is more national and ISRO-specific, than anything else. Since the success of launching the Orbiter in the Martian orbit, there have been many responses — mostly positive and celebratory. Some, without doubt, cynical.

I have nothing to say to the cynics. Free country and all that.

Yet, at the time when the Orbiter was out of range for 20-odd minutes, not knowing if it was successful, if your heart did not race, you have missed an experience. Imagination has much to do with the reality of our lives. And without any milestones that help mark our imagination, our journeys will be truncated. We will have no markers that guide us to the unmarked futures of where we think we can be.

In my head, this successful space adventure is less about space and science. It is more about the ability of what we are capable of. What did ISRO demonstrate? A low-cost venture? An experimental odyssey? A capability demonstration? Well, all the above, and much more. They demonstrated grit and determination.

One of the most endearing aspect of this launch was the camaraderie between two space agencies on the opposite sides of the world. NASA and ISRO. Progress is the mechanism of push and pull. Scientists will want to push it forward; everyone else will pull it back. And here, the scientist is not the Ph. D. working at ISRO, it is you and me.

We have to extract more from the successful launch of the MOM than the successful launch itself. My meaning won’t make sense to you perhaps, so find out what it means for you.

With due respect I salute all the folks who were involved in the MOM and congratulate them for this wondrous accomplishment. It is unfortunate that the real heroes and heroines are nameless people in labs; yet, to each one of you, I bow with sincere gratitude and respect.

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There’s a lot of not-so-nice-things that happen in this country. That’s reality. It is unfortunate that, when there is a corruption scam, all the news channels seek out all the unsavoury folks for a news bite. Negative reporting = sensationalism. The reporters of these channels now find no excitement in a wondrous event. “What if it fails” was on the top agenda. An achievement that belonged to a scientific institution was usurped by politicians invited by the news channels. That’s how deep their negativity is rooted. Rather than be a source of pride; there were debates of credit. The DNA of our news agencies has been infected by the minus-virus. They are unable to see anything positive or nice. In the garb of objective reporting; they are depressing a powerful nation.

If any politician wants to know why a country of more than a billion automatically thinks of them as villian, there is no better time.

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The next time, I say “Jaya he” (a phrase in India’s national anthem); it will also include you, my dear scientists. 

Faith’s Question

A post has brewed for more than a week now. When it took birth, the sense, it seemed, was of righteous anger. There was a festival in play which signifies happiness and joy, so I did not post. That sense of anger, over the seven days that I celebrated the festival quickly turned into disgust, then into orphaned sadness, and eventually got diluted over the days to placid resignation. The festival is still on; some celebrate it for ten days.

Somewhere between this journey of morphing feelings, I heard, in my head, the chorus of Paul Simon’s Proof looped in my head incessantly:

Faith
Faith is an island in the setting sun
But proof, yes
Proof is the bottom line for everyone. Proof

I was chanting the litany relevant to the occasion, yet this chorus enveloped my mind. Two voices were vying for attention at the same time. One that was coming out of my mouth wanting my mind and heart to feel it; and the other was playing in my head, hoping my mouth would recite it. Words are placeholders for meaning. When two very clear meanings fight, the mind-space becomes a mess.

Festivals are about being merry; I do not deny that. The lack of reverence that I was exposed to however,  caused that sequence of diluting of emotions within me. My faith and my beliefs are an inheritance and I am proud and grateful for that. Mostly, because they were never imposed on me, they were offered to me, for my consideration. I emphasise that phrase because I have borrowed it from a friend, Sagar Kolte, who has helped me understand what being grounded means; that italicised phrase is not mine; it’s his. But that is what I inherited: A context for consideration.

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My initial anger, which was dunked in a bucket to let go, came from the lack of reverence that I saw on the street on the eve of this festival. The Ganesh Chaturthi Festival has two contexts. One is personal; the original context of it — a practice to experience attachment, detachment, and selflessness. The other is social, which is rooted in the Indian Freedom Struggle. Both the contexts however have one thing in common: reverence. On the eve of the festival, I saw that there was utter ignorance of either of these contexts, coupled with utter lack of reverence.

I sheathed my anger at that instant and came home. I thought about Faith, that’s when the song by Paul looped infinitely in my head. At that instant, another song by him briefly asked a question of me:

There may come a time
When I will lose you
Lose you as I lose my sight
Days falling backward into velvet night
The open palm of desire
Wants everything

It wants everything. Further to Fly (Emphasis, mine)

There’s so much that churned in my head these seven days. As I rake in all that transpired in the week, I discover that there’s little that I collect; it escapes me like sand through fingers. Who am I to question how someone expresses their beliefs? Like me, others would have also considered what they believe, and act so.

What I originally meant to post has been immersed into oblivion. These are the vapours that remain of the original brewing. Perhaps indirectly, I have questioned the belief of others, which I intended to question directly. After the festival and the immersion, I have let go. I am blessed by what I have been allowed to consider.

I do know the meaning of what I do. I know the meaning, context, and the philosophy of every chant that I utter. And I have reason on my side even when I talk of something (irrational, though it may seem). Those reasons are mine, and mine only. It seems, I have made peace with them. It has taken me 42 years to know this: the nature of beliefs and my reasons of faith are non-negotiable and non-transactional. They are personal. Very personal.

So are yours.

To Fail or Not to Fail

It’s only the 9th day of the month, and I can tell you now, it’s not at all easy writing everyday  It helps however, that a few fellow bloggers have encouraged me through their likes, shares, comments, and tweets. (Even when I know that some of the posts are not as good or complete as I’d like them to be)

When I think hard about it, it doesn’t really matter if I miss a day or two; this challenge has little significance in the scheme of things. It’s not related to money, work, or health. So, to fail in this challenge would mean little. But I intend to succeed. As I had written previously  we have to explore for ourselves the nature of our commitments. We have to define success on a standard that is acceptable to us – it may be the same as what is generally accepted, it may be higher or it may be lower. But it has to be ours. And failure – if it becomes ours, has to be measured by our standard.

There’s too much being made of failure. I recently tweeted:

While giving encouragement – the kind I receive on this blog – is important, when people close to you have embarked on an adventure, the encouragement has to be (for want of a better word) rational. There’s too much mollycoddling around failures. If you didn’t know better, you’d think it’s a good thing to fail.

We learn from our mistakes. Yes.

Failure is the first step to success. Yes

[Insert a similar over-positive-sounding idiom]. Yes

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That’s all true, but there has to be some limit on failing. You cannot be failing all the while, thinking, “There, I’m that much closer to success.” If you do not learn why you have failed in the first place, it will take you farther from success. If I find myself failing over and over – I have to review the standard I set for myself, or the manner in which I have set out to achieve that standard, or both. There’s also too much talk about passion; passion that will see us through the difficult times.

To an extent. Yes.

Passion is an attitude, not a tool that will see me through. I will need to invest time, gain knowledge, and apply skill to what I do. There’s nothing romantic about failure.

Failure is not an option.

Our Doubts are Traitors

I would never have thought I’d find a quote like this in LinkedIn, but I did, and it seems quite common for inspirational messages to posted to LinkedIn. (This quote was a shared by a friend of of mine, who, I suspect reads my posts once in a while — so my dear friend, this post is not about you, but about the quote, and more so how I see the quote)

One of the hardest decisions you’ll ever face in life is choosing whether to walk away or try harder.

Right.

0653: Ghost of ManFirst, whoever said this in the first place was being unfair. The way it is said, it is clear that the author (is quoter a word?) feels that walking away is easy (as against trying harder). In almost all social contexts, “working hard” is a virtue that we all learn from childhood. Some have substituted smart in place of hard, yet, the value of working hard has never diminished. When I read the quote through that lens, it seems to suggest that walking away is easy. It’s not. At all. In fact, trying harder is easier; walking away can be harder than trying harder. That’s one of the reasons many people feel stuck, where they are in life.

Second, the quote has no context of what we are walking away from or what it is that we need to try harder. Different situations, circumstances, and considerations will need different responses. You’d probably walk away from a dead-end job but try harder if you are working towards excellence. You’d walk away from an abusive relationship, but try harder when your loved ones need help. The instances may seem silly as you read them now, however, each situation is unique and has its on context and variables.

Finally, in my very personal opinion: to choose to try harder is not a decision (in the way it is used in the quote). Trying hard is a natural social and cultural response for the most of us. Seldom is it a conscious choice.

Here’s another quote, while we are at it:

“Don’t turn away from possible futures before you’re certain you don’t have anything to learn from them.” ― Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

When are we certain? When can we be certain? How long should we continue with that possible future to get to the point where we can categorically say that we are certain? No one can answer this for us, but us. It is an extremely personal experience, and whether people around you agree with you or not, you are the only person who can be certain. You are the only person who has to be certain.

And finally, one last quote. One that I feel has been constructed so well, it works even if you want to walk away or if you try harder. Is it the decision that’s hard, or the act? Perhaps you will see a glimpse of the real culprit, in what is the hardest decision.

Our doubts are traitors,
And makes us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.

~William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act 1, Scene 4

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Related Post: Nothing so Certain as your Anchors

Exit The Circle

The problem is never excitement. Excitement needs to be sustained to enable forward-movement. Excitement costs energy and reenergising consistently is difficult. The sources of energy are dispersed and access to them can be a challenge. Access to distributed sources requires continuous movement from one place to another. Prolonged movement cause fatigue. Yet we continue to prod along because we are motivated, and the engine of this motivation is excitement.

The problem is never excitement.

Go

I’m ready, I’m set.

The last few days, I’ve been rehearsing what I want to do today. This is the first day of my challenge. This is what we call all-reals. (If you ever played cricket in school, and had trial balls, you would know what I am saying.)

I vividly remember the call: “ALL REALS!”

The mood, tenor and the intensity across the teams changed in an instant. You could see it in our expressions and our body language. Good friends otherwise, in opposite teams, became fierce rivals, in an instant. I now wonder what changed; how we saw beyond the person to the wickets that we were supposed to demolish. It is now time to be the fast bowler that I once was. My eyes on that spot for the perfect yorker. It is impossible for a bowler to bowl six yorkers in an over. But it is definitely possible for a bowler to bowl six attempted yorkers in an over.

Enough games.

No games. How do I get that in? She’s running. It’s early, it’s quiet. Just the sound of her feet on the asphalt. She likes to run alone. No pressure, no stress. This is the one place she can be herself. Look any way she wants, dress, think any way she wants. No game playing, no rules. Games, sports, rules. Games, sports, rules. Playing by the rules. Playing games versus playing – Playing by the rules. Playing games versus playing. ~ What Women Want (2000)

Play the sport; be the sport.

Go!

Commitments are Personal

Most of the self-help kind of sites will tell you one thing: when you make a commitment, tell the world about it. The idea is that if you start failing in that commitment, the world will be keeping a watch and you will be motivated not to fail. Because the world is watching. I think that’s wrong. You should ever be doing things for yourself than for the world.

This world is really the set of people that you call family and friends. And that lot has to be studied well. While you call them family and friends, what do they really mean to you? When you make that public commitment — I am going to quit smoking — for example, what do you want them to do? When you sneak out for the a drag 16 hours after you have quit do you want them to stop you or do you want them to support you? Are you ready to continue to like them if they stop you and are you ready to hate them if they allow you? It starts becoming less about them and more about you.

Different people in this set will respond differently to your public commitment. And they aren’t wrong in the way they respond. The logic of a public declaration is not so much about the public to whom you have declared the commitment, it is more about how you want that public to respond. To me, that dilutes the essence of the commitment.

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But commitments are personal. You make them for your own reasons. You follow through for a personal gain. There’s little that people can do anything about it. If we think that words and phrases of encouragement will help us build the statement that we seek to make, it’s absurd. We are playing to an audience and we become deeply dependent on the applause; performance should be guided less by the applause and more by the excellence of the act. And the act belongs to us. Only your will to make that change can guide you. Unless, of course you need professional help, in which case you should seek it. Even there, the public cannot help you there.

A commitment is made up of two things: the intent and the manner. And both of them are personal. What you want to do and how you want to do it. Notice that both of them are about you?

I’ve recently made a commitment. The purpose of that commitment is very personal and important to me. The manner is simple; I just have to act on it. I may stumble or falter. I may not show up, at times.

But that stage is mine forever, and I care less about the applause and care much about (improving) the quality of the performance.

Raise the curtains.