Tag Archives: occasions

More on religion

According to the Hindu calendar today is three years since my mother passed away. If I were religious, or if I were to bow to pressures from religious relatives, I would have performed a “shraadhha/tithi” today. Instead, I’m home, leading a rather normal life. In spite of it being a Sunday today, I’m actually working (I coordinate schedules with my wife, and for some reason she chose to take off this Friday and go to work on Sunday, so I followed). I’ve eaten breakfast and a very normal lunch.

Every year, twice a year (it’s remarkable that my parents’ death anniversaries have a phase difference of about six months), I begin to get requests from relatives – mostly uncles and aunts but also from the wife – that I need to “do my religious duties” and perform the shraadhhas. The last few occasions, I complied. However, as I’ve explained in this post, I’ve gotten disgusted with the general quality of priests around and decided that it’s not worth my while to enrich that community just because someone tells me it might help my parents attain salvation in their afterlives.

Since I flatly refused to do the shraadhha this time, the last few weeks have had more than their fair share of religious discussions compared to earlier. I’ve been asked how I know that priests mis-pronounce. When I say that my limited knowledge of Sanskrit is enough to identify the mispronunciations, they suggest that I try different priests. I then talk about the number of different priests I’ve encountered over various Shraadhhas over the last few years, and about how not one has really said the mantras well (except for the family priest who conducts weddings, etc. but shraadhhas are too small-time for him).

Then comes the clinching argument from my relatives – that even otherwise irreligious people like my father did their ancestors’ shraaddhas without fail. And it is at that time that I start questioning the whole purpose of the Shraadhha and trying to ascribe a believable reason for it. I argue that if the intention is to remember the deceased, I don’t need one day a year to do that since my parents come in my dreams practically every other day. The intention might have been to get all the descendants of the deceased together, but then I’m the only descendant of my parents and I’m “together with myself” all the time.

Then they try and convince me to perform what I can classify as “lesser evils” – such as giving raw rice and vegetables to a priest. I’ve done that once before and considered it to be such an unpleasant experience that I don’t want to do it again. And then I question how it will help. And the argument goes on.

So for today, finally I submitted that I’ll put food out for the crows before I eat, since in the Sanatana Dharma crows are supposed to represent your ancestors. After much haggling, this seemed like an acceptable compromise.

Later in the evening yesterday, my wife and I had a long conversation about what it is to be a Brahmin and why Brahmins are traditionally vegetarian.

Sometimes, when I don’t think enough I think it is ok to admit to the whims and fancies of other people just so that I don’t piss them off. But then when I do think about it, I find it ridiculous that saying a certain set of songs with certain pronunciation and intonation will have some bearing on my life. I find it incredible that feeding some random so-called Brahmins will help provide peace to my deceased parents.

Growing up with an ultra-religious mother and an atheist father, I never really “got” religion, I must say. In fact, the first time when I thought about religion was when I read about parts of America not believing in evolution (this was some 4 years back) – it was incredible that some people were so deluded that they didn’t accept something so fundamental. It was around the same time that I read The God Delusion (not a great book I must say – could’ve been written in < 20 pages), and the beliefs of the devout, as it described, shocked me.

It was around this time that I realized that some (nay, most) people actually take it seriously that if you pray for something it increases your chances of getting it. It shocked me to believe that some people believe that chanting a certain set of songs (mantras are just that, in Vedic language) will improve your life without any other effort on your part. It shocked me that people actually believe in afterlife and rebirth. By this time, my father had passed away, and this wasn’t a topic about which I could have a rational discussion with my mother, so I let it be.

Some temples (of various religions) make me feel calm and peaceful, and I love visiting them. There are temples which look so good I think they need to be preserved, and I make reasonably generous offerings there. There are festivals that I consider fun, and I celebrate them enthusiastically. We had a fairly large doll display at home this Navaratri. We burst fireworks and ate lots of sweets this Diwali. Last year we hosted a Christmas party. With some friends, I raided the kebap stalls in Fraser Town during Ramzan. We set up a little mandap at home for Ganesh Chaturthi, and displayed my collection of Ganesh idols.

But the concept of before-lives and after-lives and rebirth? That of prayers sans effort making a difference? That you need to feed some so-called Brahmins who can’t recite mantras for nuts just so that your parents attain peace in the afterlife? I find it all absolutely ridiculous.

I didn’t put food out for crows – I find no reason to believe that my mother has transformed into one of them, and that that particular crow will come looking for food today. I haven’t worn back my sacred thread as promised yesterday. I think my cook had put onion and garlic in my lunch today. And life goes on..

Whether to surprise or not

Today, my wife turns twenty five. It hasn’t been a good birthday so far, for she feels depressed that she’s growing old. It doesn’t help matters that I’ve failed to surprise her, while on my birthday six months back she had put together a series of fantastic surprises. In my defence, I treated her to an afternoon of unlimited shopping a couple of days back,which I had assumed was her”birthday gift”.

Anyway, the point is that it had been brought to my notice before I went out somewhere this evening that I’d failed to materialize with a “birthday gift” and I was wondering if I should get something on my way back. It is not like I didn’t have ideas. I had several. But as I went through them one by one I realized that for each of them, there was a credible rebuttal she could come out with for each of them that would make it seem like there was no “thought” behind that gift and the only reason I had brought it was that she was unhappy.

I reasoned that irrespective of what had happened in the intervening couple of hours when I was out, she would still be upset with me at the end of it. Given that she would be upset with me, the odds that the gift I would bring would completely melt her and she would be satisfied would be miniscule. Instead, I would only have to endure more sulking, with the added charge of my trying to bribe her out of her anger.

I guess the big problem with me that I’m too cold and rational most of the time (the few occasions when I get emotional, I go crazy and cry loud enough to bring my whole apartment complex down). So the rationalist in me decided to make the rational decision that the chances of winning over my wife with a superb gift was so low that it would not justify the effort involved in bringing that surprise. So I came home empty handed.

My wife is inside the bedroom now, pretending to read a book that isn’t particularly interesting, while I blog this sitting in the hall, having taken control of the TV and watching the French Open final. I guess I was guilty of not giving myself that chance to turn her over today. But then, I didn’t spend all that mind space in trying to find that superb gift. I told you right, that I’m too cold and rational most of the time. And I write about too many things on this blog.

Non competitive hobbies

During my riding trip two months back, I was wondering why I enjoyed riding so much more than any of the other “hobbies” that I have indulged in over the last twenty years or so. It was tough for me to think about any other hobby that had given me as much pleasure in the early days as riding did, and no other hobby seems or seemed as sustainable as this one. As I rode, and daydreamed while I rode, I thought about what it was about riding that gave me the kind of unbridled joy that any of my other hobbies had failed to provide. The reason, I figured, was that it was not competitive (no I don’t intend to be a motorcycle racer, ever).

Looking back at the hobbies that I’ve had since childhood – be it playing chess or playing the violin or even writing, they have all been competitive hobbies. As soon as I got reasonably good at chess, I started playing competitively, and soon the pressures of tournament play got to me, I lost my love for the game and stopped playing. Violin was a little better off in the sense that for a reasonably long time I only played for myself (apart from the occasions when I had to entertain random visiting relatives). But then, I was asked to take up an examination, and then enter inter-school music contests, and I find it no surprise that I quit my lessons six months after my examinations. I must mention that I’m on the road to committing the same mistake again, in my second stint at violin learning. As things stand now, I’m scheduled to appear for the ABRSM Grade Three examination this October, but I have my reasons for that and don’t think the process of appearing for the exam will kill my love for music.

Writing remained a passion, and a hobby which I think I was rather good at, until the time I started thinking about monetization. The minute I started thinking about wanting to write for money, I lost the love for it, which might explain the deceleration in activity on this site over the last three years or so. I had lost yet another hobby to the competitive forces.

The thing with competition is that it puts pressure on you. You have to being to hold yourself to a standard other than your own, and that means you will have to do certain things irrespective of whether you think it makes sense to do that. Soon, your hobby ends up as a slave to your competition, and it is unlikely you’ll be able to sustain interest after that. You can say that the moment a hobby becomes competitive, it ceases to be a hobby and becomes “work”.

The reason I’m bullish about motorcycling at this moment is that I don’t see a means for it to become competitive. Since I don’t intend to race, and don’t care about whether others have ridden more than me or whatever, I’ll be mostly riding for myself. Yes, when I planned my Rajasthan tour, I did think of monetizing it by writing about it for the media, but that I think was more a function of wanting to monetize my writing than my riding. In the event, i didn’t get a mandate to write, and that in no way affected my enthusiasm for the ride. Rather I felt freer that I could enjoy the ride rather than thinking about what I would write about it.

As I go along, I hope to pick up one or two more such non-competitive hobbies. Of course I intend to make motorcycling a “major” hobby. As it is, I love traveling, doing it my own way and going off the beaten path. And I love the feeling as i accelerate, with the wind penetrating the air vents of my riding jacket and my thighs grabbing the petrol tank. Now if only I can convince Pinky to also take this up as a hobby..

Wedding Notes

I just got back from a friend’s wedding. Lots of pertinent observations.

  • Today’s groom and I share three social networks. We went to two schools together and he went to a third after I had graduated from there. So I had expected to meet a lot of old friends/acquaintances. To my surprise, fifteen minutes after I had got to the wedding hall, I hadn’t “met” anyone. Finally ended up meeting just two people that I’d known.
  • The queue system in receptions is much abused. It is demoralizing to get to a wedding and see that you’ve to go through such a long process before you meet the couple. As the groom (or bride for that matter), it’s even worse. You’re tired after a full day of activity and a long line of people waiting to meet you isn’t too inspiring. However, sometimes the queue turns out to be a lifesaver. It was the first time in a very long time that I’d gone alone to attend a wedding. On earlier such occasions I’d just be looking around like a fool for familiar faces. Today, though, there was no such dilemma. I headed straight to the queue!
  • People who didn’t immediately join the queue had a special treat. Waiters were going around the hall offering soft drinks and starters to those that were seated. I looked to see if they served those in line also. They didn’t. I managed to sample those starters, though, when I went to meet some friends after I’d wished the couple.
  • This wedding was at a fairly new wedding hall (less than ten years old for sure), and these modern halls are built in quite a streamlined manner, I must say. From the reception stage, there’s always a path that quickly leads you to the dining hall. And then from the dining hall, there is a path that leads straight outside, where paan and coconuts will be waiting for you, which you can collect on your way out. This is a much better system than in some of the older wedding halls, like the one where I got married. There, the path from the dining hall led back to the main hall, and so at times there was a traffic jam, with large numbers of people moving both to and from the dining hall.
  • There’s something classy about wedding halls where chairs have been draped with white sheets and fat ribbons tied across the backs of the chairs. There’s also something classy about round tables with chairs set up in the dining hall, where you can settle down with the food you’ve picked up at the buffet. There weren’t too many of those but the set up allowed for plenty of standing room, also.
  • The buffet itself was well designed. It had been separated out into several clearly marked sections. You had to collect your plate from a central location (I almost typed “central server”!! ) and go to the counter whose food you wanted. This prevented long lines and bottlenecks. It was a pleasant food experience.
  • There were some five different kinds of sweets. Given that it’s hard to estimate demand for each, I wonder how they would’ve tackled the wastage.
  • When you meet old friends, after a while the conversation invariably degenerates to “so, who did you meet of late? what’s he/she doing?” and you end up going through your class roll call and try figure out who’s doing what.
  • I’ve said this before but I’m not at all a fan of live music at weddings. Keep it too soft (never happens) and the artistes get pissed off. Keep it too loud (always the case) and you need to shout to be heard. Some weddings take it a step forward – they pipe the music from the main hall where it’s being played live into the dining hall, killing conversation there too. There are piracy issues there but I still like what we did at our wedding, when we played a carefully curated set of trance numbers. I don’t know how well it was received, though, and how loud it was (we couldn’t hear anything on stage).
  • Some “features” that used to be luxuries at wedding receptions ten-fifteen years ago are necessities now. Chaat, soup, paan, ice cream, that table in the centre with huge carved vegetables and salads ..

Managing self

When I look back at my early career (high school and early part of college), and wonder how I was so successful back then, I think it was primarily because back then I was pretty good at managing myself. Even at that early (!! ) age, I had a good idea of what I was good at, and was able to either take paths that were aligned to my strengths, or outsource cleverly, in order to do a good job of things.

For example, back when I was in 12th standard, I was “Maths Association President” in my school, and was in charge of organizing the Maths section of the school exhibition. The first thing I realized then was that while I was technically good, I sucked at managing people, and the first person I recruited was someone who I got along well with, and who I thought was an excellent people manager. I think together we managed to do a pretty terrific job.

Another example was when I was preparing to get into IIM. I recognized that CAT was something I was inherently good at, but wasn’t sure of my ability to do well in interviews. So I decided to prepare hard for CAT (though I thought I didn’t really need it), so as to maximize my performance there and render the interview irrelevant. Thinking back about my IIMB interview, I’m surprised they let me in at all, and I guess that was because of my CAT maximization only.

There were several other such occasions. Like when I decided not to prepare for JEE at all in my 11th standard in order to “conserve myself” for the push in 12th. Or when I spent a week doing nothing after my 12th boards, so that I could time my “big JEE push” such that I peaked at the right time. Or when I decided not to care about grades in courses that I loathed (as long as I passed, of course) so that I could spend more time and enjoy the courses I liked. In short, I loved being my own boss.

5 years of work in 4 different places has been largely unsatisfactory, as the more perceptive of you might have inferred from my posts. The biggest challenge so far has been in motivating myself to do something that I don’t just care about, only because I’m being paid a salary. And thinking more about it, it might be because I never really grasped the full import of what I was signing for every time I signed for a job. And I must admit there were times I lied, though not consciously. I tried to convince people I was good at getting things done (something I absolutely suck at). I told them I’m a decent programmer (I’m an excellent programmer but a lousy software engineer). And so forth.

In essence I realize  that over the last five to six years I’ve failed miserably at managing myself. At getting myself into things that I enjoyed, at taking routes that I enjoy rather than one professed by someone else, at doing what I really want to do rather than what someone else wants me to do, and so forth. Essentially, by mortgaging my time to someone else, in exchange for a salary four times, I’ve actually lost the right to manage myself. And for someone with unusual skills and weaknesses (as I think I am), it is no surprise that things haven’t gone too well at all.

I do hope I can make a career in a way that I don’t mortgage my time in entirety to someone else. To be able to work, and be paid for it, but to do things my way. In other words, I don’t want to take up a full time job. To paraphrase a line I read in an extract of Aman Sethi’s A Free Man I need to recognize that I need my azaadi also, and shouldn’t give it up for kamaai.

Going to Chennai

There’s something about traveling to Chennai that depresses me. Usually I’m a big fan of traveling, at least I think I am. Usually, before any trip, when I’m getting ready to leave, I feel happy. There’s some kind of happy expectation that there’s going to be lots of fun to be had in the trip. Except, when I’m going to Chennai.

I’ll be leaving home in about an hour’s time to catch a bus to Chennai. We’ll be there for a day and a half, and I’ll be meeting lots of people and hopefully having a good time. There’s nothing inherently unpleasant or uncertain about this trip. Heck, we’re even going to get picked up at the bus stand by someone holding my name board – it doesn’t get better than that.

But still, I’m not at my most cheerful. There’s something that’s making me feel sad. That’s because I’m going to Chennai. Oh, and I should mention one thing. I feel this way only when I’m taking an overnight train or bus to go there. The times when I’ve caught the early morning Shatabdi to get there (of late, that’s my most preferred means of transportation to Chennai) I’ve felt quite happy and upbeat.

I think it’s the association with college. I think I’ve mentioned here that I don’t count my years at IIT as my happiest. I was an inherently troubled soul back in those days, and the only thing that I would look forward to back then was the monthly trip back home. And when that trip back home was over and it was time to go back, gloom would descend.

I remember it would be the same dinner my mother would make every time I’d to take the overnight train. There was this fixed time we’d leave home, and the same route we’d take to the station. And till about a year or so back, when I started taking that route quite frequently (for different purposes of course), traveling towards Majestic via Bull Temple Road and Goods Shed Road would remind me of those days when I’d be going back to Chennai.

A lot of things have changed. On most occasions my trips to Chennai nowadays are for happy purposes. Yet, when it’s late night and I’ve to leave for Chennai there’s a vague feeling. That lump in the throat. There’s a bottle of Thums Up that the wife has just placed on my table. Hopefully consuming it will clear the lump.

Cab guys’ tales

I travel to and from work in the company-provided cab. It’s a fairly convenient system, offering you flexible timings, and routings that aren’t too bad. The overhead in terms of time of traveling by cab is about 15-20 minutes for a 40-minute journey, so I take it on most days.

Given a choice, I try to sit next to the driver – maybe that’s the most comfortable seat in an Indica, and it definitely is the best seat in a Sumo. On most occasions, I chat with the driver as he drives me, but sometimes I don’t have the opportunity – since the driver is too busy chatting on his mobile phone. Yeah, company rules forbid that, but I guess no one really complains, so these guys get away with being on the phone a lot of the time.

Most of the time, the conversation is about loans, and repayment. Most of it is about informal loans that people have lent each other. The amounts these guys lend each other – seen as a percentage of their income (which I’m guessing based on what one cab guy told me last year) is humongous! They make loans to each other of the order of a few months’ salaries, and it seems like these loans are in perpetual transition – between the cabbies and their friends.

I hear them shout, strategise, pacify, ideate, about these issues. And sometimes after they’ve hung up I talk to them about this. One conversation comes to mind. So there was this cabbie whose family had lost a lot of money by “investing” it in a chit fund. It was an “informal” (i.e. unregistered fund), and in the previous “round”, his family had invested and made a good return. So in this “round”, more members of the family invested in the fund. And the fund manager decamped with the money!

I remember telling him that it was a bad strategy putting all their investments with the same guy, and tried to explain to him the benefits of diversification. He replied saying that he didn’t want to invest in the chit fund (the one he lost money in) but family members forced him to invest along with them, calling him a “traitor” when he tried to diversify!! Strange.

Back then, I didn’t know how exactly chit funds work else I would’ve also told him that it was an especially bad idea for people from the same family to invest in the same chit fund. If you think about how a chit fund works, you are basically betting on the desperation for money among the other “members” of the fund. You are betting that someone else in the pool needs money so badly that they’re willing to forego a higher “discount” which will then come into your kitty. So with members of the family all putting money in the same fund, they were just betting against each other! So even if the fund “manager” hadn’t decamped, it’s unlikely they would’ve got a particularly significant return on their investment.