Monday, 29 January 2007

The Tavern

“Ke harkat tez tar hai, aur safar ahista, ahista”
A bad rendering of this would be ‘movement so frenetic and journey so slow’. How immortal Munir Niazi, now departed for the eternal shades, summed up the situation around me.

Many times I am left amazed by the focus on sheer activity by folks I know here. More the activity more satisfied they are. No need to know what happened to the hazy concept called ‘Performance’. Even I am guilty of adding to the conundrum and the chaos. But the difference is that I feel guilty, and sometimes cry out loud, and cut the chord to actually ‘do’ something. As I was telling a good friend of mine, I would be nothing if I am not doing something meaningful. Just that both the frequency and the intensity of doing something ‘meaningful’ has nosedived so elegantly that it may actually qualify for some kind of a big award.

I am not being critical of anyone or anything. I am not critical even of myself. The most difficult thing to find in one’s life, according to me, is addiction to something -wherein one wants to go down in a blaze doggedly pursuing a goal. Dhirubhai Ambani, the great corporate seer, succinctly called it ‘Nasha’. I cannot think of any word more apt- we all search for an addiction - that blinds one to everything else, makes you go mad running after that one objective, rendering you listless in the process.

It is that state of inebriation I am looking for. That is the biggest challenge in my life, and in everyone else’s.

It is more than just a ‘sense of purpose’, because a purpose usually is a broad definition of things one wants to accomplish. My purpose in life could oscillate between being a good son/husband/father, to being an ace in my profession. Purpose is a state of mind. A very broad philosophy of life. The addiction I am talking about comes in spurts, and it is an ecstasy while it lasts. It consumes you, and every fibre of your body is attuned to reaching that one single goal, that one single place where nothing matters – not even the goal.

Let me make it a little simpler to understand, by citing few examples from my life (I am given to rambling and do a little self-aggrandizement every now and then).

I was preparing for ISB (The Indian School of Business), and I was quite literally a man possessed. I woke up to GMAT preparation and ended my day with refining my essays, honing my application to a level, where I was literally chiseling words on the paper. I slept, dreamt, ate only ISB. In the office I put on ‘Dark side of the moon’, and from dawn to dusk worked only on my preparation. I renounced everything and everyone. I can’t remember if I did anything else. It was an all encompassing consumption of my being. A singular obsession. I will talk about the results a little later.

The second instance was when I sat down to master (that’s the word) one of my biggest academic nemesis’- Physical Chemistry. I spent all my day cursing my university to have included that in our course. Ask me to immerse myself in hot sand for a day, and I would have given all but a little thought; reading Physical Chemistry was a different kind of torture by itself. Chinese torture seemed like a massage in comparison to opening that book and reading it.

Anyhow, the only memory I have of that day and age, is that I still hold the university record in that subject. I know you'd be surpised to know that. But this is what 'addiction' does to you, so read along.

When I sat down to tame that demon, honest to God, I was almost trembling looking down the path I was about to choose – I had never lasted one complete class (lasting excruciating 45 minutes), never knoew where they held it, knew no one who had taken the subject, and had absolutely no idea who the professor was. It was only in the last month that I realized that I actually had a book of that subject, bought in complete ignorance at the start of the year. If sub-zero assessment on a written paper were possible, I would have been the flag-bearer of that illustrious group of students. Less than a month remained for the finals, and I was busy preparing my family to brace impact - a thorough failure in Chemistry, and consequently in that class. An unprecedented situation in my life.

It was then when I faced the truth, and in a true-blue patriot-kind of approach to life, decided that I will teach physical chemistry to myself. I still don't know what made me do that, but I think that is anbother discussion altogether. The challenge sat in front of me, in 400 illustrated pages. Less than a month to go, and a tome of a book to cover.

Clueless and naked in that situation, I did not know what to do, so I followed what came instinctually. I sat down and started writing down page after page, filling it with whatever I read in the book. It was not some kind of grand strategy, but just a brute force model. Tom Hanks was busy running, and I was busy writing.

Just two days into this, and it got to me. I could not do anything else. I read and read, and wrote and wrote endlessly. I spoke to walls, and to the plants, and taught them a thing or two about Ostwald’s law of dilution. They responded to me, challenged me, and showed me what I needed to get right. They sparred with me, and I sparred with myself. I was dancing in that ecstasy, and they danced along with me. Wherever I looked, I saw only equations, laws, theories, hypotheses. I was a man-possessed.

I did not want anyone around me-there was no need. Some senses like those of food, heat and cold almost vanished. I remember I felt hungry, but I don’t remember what I ate. It did not matter. I had not seen my friends for a long time (except Savi, at whose house I had stayed during that time), and I did not feel the need to interact with my family. As I retrospect, it was a complete surrender to that one cause; a complete renunciation of everything. It was a relentless pursuit of that one thing – mastering that subject.

When I took the exam, I knew everything. I finished everything, including helping others in two hours, instead of the allotted three. I did not care about marks, or about the fact that my fellow student might get more marks than I would, if I help them. I was beyond care. I stood up, gave the sheets to the examiner, and walked out of the room and into reality. The dream was over.

I have never felt so empty in my life. I still remember, it felt like the grass had just grown-it was so fresh, the sky had just opened up-it was so blue, the earth had just been soaked with rain-it was so fresh. I am not rambling here. I felt a sense of happiness when I saw people around. They looked so happy, so nice, so good.

I was walked out without any baggage. Whatever I had (and that was a lot) got burnt in a blaze that lasted a mere twenty five days. I was not exhausted; I was (what is the word?) blissful. I walked out a new myself. Nothing mattered to me - one could take my favorite tennis bat and I would not care. You could walk away with the girl I liked, and that would have been alright with me. You could have hit me, and I would have forgiven you. You could have belittled me, and I would have just laughed out loud. I was something else, and the ‘me’ in me did not matter.

No, I am not rambling. I am not exaggerating. Those who search for God through music or through devotion, will recognize my experience as that small, infantile step, that they took when they started on their long journeys. Nothing mattered to me, like nothing matters to an inebriated person-heat, cold, greed, joy, sorrow, ego - nothing.

I reckon the reason nothing mattered to me was because I had experienced something greater than all that I was used to. I discovered myself, and I played with and against myself. There was no opponent, just me. And I realized that in life too, nothing matters except discovering yourself. Stretching your limits, and seeing what lies beneath the letters that spell your name. Nothing mattered to me because I had seen a small part of what I was made of. I had spent time with an individual called Dhiraj, and engaged him in an experience that was just about him. I had put myself through a grind that brought hidden flavors out to the top. And those tasted like nothing else.

It is of such experience that I talk of, and I yearn for. I search for that bliss. I search for that goal, that blaze that will consume me. I search for that elusive moment when I would give up everything to attain just one thing. I may not even get that one thing, but I am okay with that - the journey is what I yearn for.
I search for my addiction, my ‘Nasha'

Tailpiece: Madhushala by Sri Harivansh Rai Bachchan sums my feelings…

'madiraalay jaane ko ghar se, chaltaa hae peene waalaa'
'kis path se jaaoon asamanjas, mein hae woh bholaabhaalaa'
'alag alag path batalaate sab, par maen yeh batalaataa hun'
'raah pakad tu ek chalaachal, paa jaa aega madhushaalaa'

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Birth in the blog world

Today I got born here.
Since I am yet to register this overwhelming experience, I will be at loss of words for today.
Also, it is the end of day / close-of-business, and I need to rush back, get into the long snarling traffic lines, and get home to eat and sleep, and be here tomorrow.
It is not that mundane, but my creative juices have all been used in solving issues of various hues and varieties, best described and summed up as 'client-problems'.

The question that stares now in my face is - 'Is this that proverbial start of my eternal longingness to write?' Quite an intimidating situation I seemed to have got myself into.
Well, the proverbials will have to face the reality of life. I will have to wind up this post for now, and trade my heroes for the cold steel - at least for the short term.

The grain has been searching for the oyster. The pearl was not made in a day.