Judgement Risks and Paybacks

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Picture Source: http://aroimakmak.com/

The other evening, when we were walking near the Esplanade Theaters by the Bay here in Singapore, Akank and I stopped for something to eat. I wanted her to try the Thai coconut ice cream, a scoop of coconut flavored sorbet served in one half of a tender coconut shell, to be eaten along with the young coconut jelly. I had tried it once before and had loved it. They also offer a chilled glass of tender coconut water to go. It was a humid evening and anything cold and thirst quenching seemed like a great snack idea.

As we sat by the Bay enjoying the crystals in the sorbet, I noticed a man looking in the general direction of where we sat. In the twilight, it seemed like he was looking directly at us. He sat there surrounded by two huge plastic bags filled with cans and plastic bottles.  It was obvious that he was a trash collector. He looked about 75 years old not a day younger.  He had no footwear on, wore a shirt that was a few sizes bigger for his frame and he was absentmindedly munching on something. My gaze kept going back to the man. I felt unsettled as I looked at him, savoring the cold sorbet with the plastic spoon in my mouth.  I wondered if he longed for a taste of the cold ice- cream.  Instinctively, I walked back to the kiosk to buy another shell of ice cream.

I offered the ice cream topped with crushed peanuts to the old man and said, “Uncle,this is for you”. With a toothless grin that reached his ears, without speaking a word, he waved both his hands and refused the offer.  I deemed it important to clarify that it was a fresh cup and not the one I was eating. I even showed him the half eaten sorbet in my other hand, but he was absolutely sure that he wanted nothing to do with it, fresh or otherwise.  I imagined that maybe the ice cream was way too cold for him and for some strange old man reason he was refusing it.  I gingerly balanced both the fresh shell and what was left of my melting sorbet and offered him the chilled coconut water to drink.  He waved me away with renewed vigor and pulled out a brown liquid from inside an enormous plastic bag and indicated that he had something to drink.  I was flabbergasted.

What a great lesson

I gave up when I realized that I expected him to accept the ice cream just because I felt charitable, but it had back fired. The fresh sorbet began to melt too.

Before I made the decision to buy the ice cream, I had my daughter’s buy-in and support. Otherwise you can imagine what else I would have had to deal with! She however refused the second helping of ice-cream. At 16, she has better control over her needs and wants related to food than I do. I pondered for a minute if I should eat the refused ice cream and then realized that it will end up being a costly mistake to my weight maintenance goals. I visualized my coach’s disapproving looks and decided that I was going to march ahead to look for someone more deserving. I had to pass by the old man, who flashed me another toothless grin and waved to me as though wishing me luck.

I shortly found a 20 year old Bangladeshi construction worker who was dragging his feet after work towards the pickup truck that would take him home. Unlike the old man, the young man gladly took the ice- cream from me and sat down to finish it. I made small talk with him as he ate and found out that he had been here less than two months. I hoped that he believed that he is in a good place, hard construction work notwithstanding, that sometimes strangers you come across in a new country, can be nice.

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Eulogy for a friend

Rest in peace, Prasad

Rest in peace, Prasad

Goodbye, Prasad.

I am glad I got to speak to you one last time before your time ran out.  It must have been providence then that prompted me to look you up on Facebook, when an email I wrote you bounced back undelivered.

It was on your birthday this year. As was the trend, we always wrote each other just that day of the year. A quick note to check if we were still in the same town, doing the same thing that we were a year back when we had connected on our birthdays.  Some ritual that. Do I regret not writing to you more often? No. It is not like we were old chums.

What were we then? Acquaintances, contacts, a connection, birthday buddies maybe?  It is funny how my mind reels back to a time, many years ago when we first came to meet. I was in Mumbai and in my first job as a head hunter. You, Prasad, were a job seeker with a resume in our databank, an active job seeker at that. You were unhappy in your assignment or maybe you were between jobs.  You came to my work place to meet with me before I set you up for an interview. We had talked briefly before that a couple of times, enough for me to know that you may be the man that the company was looking for. Yet, as was required, I wanted to meet with you to ascertain if my judgment of you was right.

You didn’t come across as someone who was aggressive and pushy. You always spoke softly with a familiarity that was endearing. You were the same age as me. That and the fact that you were a south Indian in Mumbai is all that it took for us to bond.  Although you didn’t make the cut at that interview, you took that in your stride.  I asked you if the HR manager looked as good as he sounded on the phone and without missing a beat, you asked me if I know of tall, dark, handsome men. Just when I began to widen my eyes in awe, you said,” He was all of that but tall and handsome”. I laugh out loud even today when I think of that follow up conversation.

Your  easy sense of humor, your laid back ‘ I-am-not-in-a-hurry- to- be- in- my- next- job’ attitude helped me line up a few more interviews that suited your profile and we stayed in touch between 1998 and year 2000. I recall speaking to you about many more job profiles. You didn’t want to jump from the frying pan to the fire, so we waited for the perfect job description.  Meanwhile, you found an interesting assignment with a tele shopping network on your own.  We stayed in touch because I told you that it pays to have a head hunter for a friend.

I relocated from Mumbai to another city a few years after that and we kept in touch on email. I cannot trace all the emails from those years, though I eagerly looked for them in my now unused hotmail account. I had switched to Gmail by then and had sent you an invite to start an account. It was year 2008, by then you had started a business on your own and seemed busy. Your once-a- year email always arrived on my birthday.

Three years later, you asked to connect on Linked In.  You wrote me saying you had forgotten my daughter’s name and blamed it on old age!  You also said something poignant in one of your updates then. You said and I quote “ .. still not done with my struggles yet”. I felt a pang of guilt wash over me. I had moved on to other things and other people and had never once wondered if you were okay and happy.  We promised to connect on Facebook that year but never really found each other there. Years went by.

It wasn’t until May this year I thought of you again. I sent you a birthday wish and the mail bounced back. I finally found you on Facebook. It had been fifteen years since I saw you. You had changed so much. You know of the tall, dark and handsome men we used to talk about? You looked like one of them.

My happiness of finding you again was short lived.  I learnt of your cancer and your Bone Marrow Transplant through the Angels for Prasad community.  When I messaged you on Facebook chat on that day, you replied almost immediately. The same old cheerful Mr. Nice Guy. You shrugged off my questions about your health and asked about me instead.

I am glad I called and spoke with you, Prasad. It may not have meant much to you, but to me, it made a world of difference. I wanted you to know that even though I hadn’t really been in touch, I have always been your well wisher. You told me that life had been good, that you did well in the insurance business; you travelled the world and even came to Singapore.  Maybe if we had stayed in touch, we could have met at Singapore?  Even though that thought saddened me, I was super happy that your career did take off.  Until your cancer was detected, you were a successful and happy man, you said.

Prasad, despite the best intentions of the world around you, you lost your fight to cancer. I wish you had lived longer. I wish I had been able to make that short trip to Mumbai to see you once more.

When I turn older in two weeks, guess whose wish I will miss this year?

Until we meet again…

Maintenance, a path less trodden -Journey to a fitter me.

Image Courtesy- kickboxingdiva.com

Image Courtesy- kickboxingdiva.com

You are familiar with the drill, the rigor, the sequence, the intensity. You know it all. You have reached the desired goal. Your bathroom scales have consistently shown you ten kilos lighter than when you began a few years back. You are happy and positive with the achievement. You know it was possible only because you had set your mind to achieving it. Yeah, you had your coach to help you along the way but in the end it was all YOU. The coach herself said that. So you become smug.

When your coach announces that she will not be able to continue to train you because she has decided to pursue bigger goals, you are supportive. With all the bravado you can muster, you assure her that you won’t fall off the track that you have been laid out. You will continue to make wise food choices, workout regularly (why, you may even commit thrice a week) and keep her posted on your progress. You even joke, ‘God forbid, I need you again!’

Then for the first few weeks you give yourself a ‘well deserved break’. You are mentally relieved that you don’t have to wake early to make it to the workout; you find more time to do other things.  You snooze that extra hour, meet a friend for coffee, watch a movie and spend some ‘catch up’ time on whats-app and social networks.  You pamper yourself and boy it feels good.  When your family and friends look at you with envy and say that you look younger, fitter and agile for your age, you tell them that all it needed was consistent effort.

Then the schools close and the family decides to go on a vacation.  You convince yourself that you will get back to your workout schedules when you are back from the holiday. Your vacation was going to be ‘active’ anyway. How much damage can it do to stay off exercise for a few more weeks?

All too soon, four months have passed by.  You are yet to restart your workout. You get used to not setting aside time for exercise, not thrice, but even once a week. Who has the time? There is always so much to do. Then one morning you decide to check if the batteries in the digital weighing machine still work. You cannot believe your eyes when the numbers soar up to 3 kilos plus than how much you weighed just a few weeks back. It definitely must be a faulty battery?

Soon afterward, your coach reaches out with a cheerful ‘Hey what’s up! Want to catch up for lunch?’ It is the beacon of light you were hoping to see to shake you up from your disinclination for activity. You are both relieved and guilty at the same time. You agree to meet with enthusiasm. You look for the most flattering outfit you have in your wardrobe to make you look the same as you did four months back.  Who are you fooling?  One look at you and her eyes take in all the details. She is too kind to point out and tell you to your face that under that entire pretense that you are in control, she knows just how much you are spilling out. Yeah that is right. That is exactly what I got told.

Anybody who has been on an exercise regimen under the watchful eyes of a coach or a trainer will agree with me.  When we decide to continue to walk the path of maintenance independently, we often fail. What is it about working out alone that is scary or boring that we just don’t seem to even want to attempt it? Does that mean you are addicted to your coach? Wasn’t it ‘all your doing’ that you achieved what you did? Then what stops you now?

I am not the first person who has felt this way. All the people I have known during my years with my coach have either fallen off the track or continued working out with other trainers. Even though I have managed to include other forms of exercise (yoga, for example) and continue to walk the daily 5km, when it comes to weight training, I am just not enthusiastic about doing it on my own.

If you are someone who is an exception to the rule and have managed to stick to the discipline of working out no matter who is watching, then tell me how you do it! But, if you are like me and many of us who are slack and need a coach or trainer to keep us engaged, engrossed and disciplined about exercise, then come on, we have to form a group and fight it!

Either way, write to me.

This is in continuation of the series of blog posts that I had written two years back in March 2013 that you will find on this blog. The link to the first of the posts of the 8-part blog titled ‘ Journey to a fitter me’ is here.

It’s a man thing.

Maybe I expect a lot from people who work in the hospitality industry. I once worked in it too and a lot was expected of me. So you can understand why I think what happened to me is worth blogging about.

It all began with my need for a sanitary pad. Now before you blame me for lacking clairvoyance in matters related to this, I was sure we had brought a big bag of them when we left home. We were traveling in Australia and I was due for the inevitable cycle to begin that week. We were stepping out to sight see the whole day and just to be safe than sorry, I dug into our over spilling suitcase for the ‘accessory’ I needed and to my dismay didn’t find the pack.

We were right in the middle of civilization and there was no need to panic except that it was seven in the morning and none of the stores would open for another 2 hours. We had checked into a hotel of repute and surely the house keeping department was prepared for such exigencies. So I called the Front Office and a male voice answered.  I asked for the required assistance and he politely said he will have to call me back after he had made some inquiries.

Ten minutes later, he apologetically called to explain that the hotel couldn’t help me and that I may have to procure what I needed from a store outside. Up until then what I suspected may happen, seemed incredibly likely to! I tried to stay calm. I decided to cross the bridge when I came to it. To cut a long story short, the inevitable did not happen. I also managed to pick the needed accessory at a store before the day was done.

We were checking out the next morning and I happened to use the rest room at the hotel lobby before we left for the airport. To my chagrin and utter disbelief, I spotted a sanitary pad dispenser in the confines of the washroom. I reprimanded the world traveler in me. Why hadn’t it occurred to me to check here instead of asking the FOA? Then the humiliation turned to anger. Why was the employee not informed about this option? When I brought it up with my husband, he stood up for the FOA. According to him, the FOA was a male and he wouldn’t have known!

The dispenser

The dispenser that I spotted in the rest room seemed to wink at me.

 

I was ready to make a protest. I wanted to educate the entire Front Office staff at Novotel Sydney about the situation knowing that such requests may come up frequently. The male FOA who ‘helped’ with my request was nowhere in the scene that morning.  Two women FOAs were busy checking in cheerful travelers and also our airport pick up was waiting at the curb.

I decided then to write them a feedback once I was back home and once I was done blogging about it. Have you had a similar experience during your travel?

Lessons from The Bhagawad Gita : Brahmarpanam

Krisnabrahmarpanam brahma havir, brahmagnau brahmana hutam
brahmaiva tena gantavyam, brahma-karma-samadhina

1) Every time I am tempted to indulge in mindless activity, this verse will help me stem my indulgence. The verse will remind me that brahman is the be all and the end all of all actions.

2) I have learnt that being spiritually awakened is not about paying a once a week visit to the temple, listening to or chanting shlokas mindlessly or waiting for occasions to pray. It is about being aware of brahman at every step of the day, before, during and after every action.

3) I realize that my attitude is driven by the philosophy I believe in. If I want to live the rest of my life in the spirit of yajna or being conscious of  brahman, then I cannot continue the way I have been operating so far, accumulating karmaphal and living in the glory of doer-ship. I have to hook on to a higher ideal which will drive all my actions going forward.

4) I have to look beyond my perspective as a single entity in the world. I must remember that I am only a minuscule part of a larger truth, a wave in the ocean, to use an analogy. To be part of the larger truth, I must learn to look beyond my  personal ‘wave world’, where I am the hero achieving all that I have achieved without acknowledging brahman.

5) When I live as though I am an independent entity capable of acting without the grace of brahman and do not acknowledge that a power beyond me exists, then I find it difficult to accept that I am a part of a larger truth. I am encapsulated in a bloated sense of self worth, in my egocentric world.

6) I realize that  my perspectives are limited to a narrow, restricted world that I have created for myself.  I have lived in the ‘take everything and give back nothing’ mode. I take credit (the karmaphal) for all the actions and this makes my sense of self worth grow and prevents me from acknowledging the brahman. I am deluded that I am the doer, I enjoy the karmaphal and continue to live in delusion.

7) My goal in life is to break free from this encapsulated cocoon that I have built around me and be a part of the bigger truth. It is possible to be engaged in actions driven by the spirit of yajna. I know that when I cease to be a wave, I become a part of the ocean. When I am the most mindless may I remember that the truth is out there.

 

Lessons from The Bhagawad Gita : Exhausting Vasanas

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nirashir yata-cittatma, tyakta-sarva-parigrahah
shariram kevalam karma,kurvan napnoti kilbisham

 

  1. Only when I don’t possess about emotions, thoughts and objects, I can exhaust my vasanas or the karmic imprints of previous actions and not add on more.
  2. I have to train my mind my mind and intellect to be fixed on a higher goal and not be busy with ideas and schemes to manipulate the world around me. That is when I do not accumulate new vasanas. When my mind is not fixed on a higher goal, it is operating from the vasanas.
  3. “Not possessing” is possible when I keep the intellect free of ideas, the mind free of expectations and the body free of any sensual demands. When I allow these to possess me, consume me, there is no respite from vasanas
  4. It is possible to renunciate without having to give up pleasures of the body, mind and intellect by disallowing my possessiveness.
  5. By exhausting my existing vasanas and not allowing the accumulation of new vasanas, my mind will then be able to focus on a higher goal.

Lessons from The Bhagawad Gita : Fruits of Action

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tyaktva karma-phalasangam, nitya-trpto nirasrayah
karmany abhipravrtto ‘pi, naiva kincit karoti sah

If I am able to work without expectations or the need to fulfill my desires, then the actions I am involved in do not create more vasanas and therefore become selfless actions or ‘unactions’.

  1. When I am preoccupied with the end result or the product of my actions, then I often make compromises in the action or process itself.
  2. Today, I am influenced by how my actions affect me and the people who live with me. I am peripheral in my outlook of life. I always seek to make the people around me happy with the choices I make.  I am possessed about I, Me and Mine.
  3. Today, I am bothered by the perceptions others in the society have about me instead of being concerned of the perception that I have of myself.
  4. To walk the path of a seeker, I have to stop being influenced by people and situations in my life. To be spiritual, I have to learn to ‘negligibilize’ (tuchCham) the effect others have on me.
  5. To be a true seeker, I have to change the way I have been performing actions and re-calibrate the reasons why I perform actions.
  6. I will consider myself to be truly spiritually evolved only when my vasanas have stopped influencing my actions. I know that finally what matters is not how much or what I did but how I did it.