Saturday, August 8, 2015

If I was 22 – Love yourself, “CHOOSE” a Boss & Re-size your Perspective

If I was 22”, what advice would I give to my younger self? Here are my thoughts…..

22 is an interesting age! We have crossed teenage chronologically, but its dilemmas of unique identity and self-worth may persist. It’s an age where we announce our arrival on the world’s stage as a capable individual. Yet, we are still wet behind our ears as an adult. An “adultling” or a fledgling adult – that’s what I like to call it!

We may still be struggling to understand ourselves, what we stand for, what we value and what we want out of life. The remnants of parental expectations linger around, the peer pressure continues, and the desire for approval flickers on and off. This can result in confusion and anxiety, leading to a lot of self-doubt. Even the smartest people may have self-doubts, as these are an inherent part of human reality.

22 is an age where many of us may not be comfortable in our own skin. And the first thing I want to tell a 22 year old is “Love yourself”. Psychologist Carl Rogers defines self-love beautifully as “a quiet sense of pleasure in being one’s own self”. Accept yourself as you are – warts and all. You may not be perfect, none of us are. But, you have unique gifts and abilities, and it’s up to you to leverage your strengths to get what you want from life. When I say love and accept yourself, it also means to be careful about who and what you accept from the world as advice or opinions. People with fragile self-esteem get tossed around like a piece of wood in the rough sea of the world’s opinions. One would rather be a well steered boat, which does get impacted by the waves, but it can either adapt itself by making course corrections, or withstand the stormy waters and continue in the right direction.

It’s important to make “what will people think” un-important in your life. “What will people think” must not be the top-most criteria for your life’s decisions. What people think about you is their business, and leave it to them. There is a caution here! Don’t confuse “people’s opinions” with constructive feedback. Constructive feedback from others is important, and should be valued. Remember the difference between constructive feedback and “people’s opinions”. The former is well thought out by the giver, given with genuine care and concern about you, and is in your best interests.  The latter lacks most of these attributes and can be quite hurtful at times.

So, add a dash of irreverence to your life. Just like a dash of spice which makes food delightful. Don’t overdo the irreverence as that can make you arrogant, but just the right amount of it can make you a playful and confident risk-taker. What you think about yourself is what matters most. If there are genuine areas of improvement, work on those, and become a person you yourself love, respect and admire. When you love someone, you take care of them, protect and nurture them. So, do that to yourself as well. That is self-love. And, if your Self is aligned with the universal principles of integrity, perseverance, compassion, courage and humility, it’s unlikely that you will veer very far off the right path.

“CHOOSE” a boss
At 22, many of us find it difficult to resist the allure of a fancy job title, global travel, money, status and fame. I am not a proponent of self-deprivation, and I consider all these desires as natural and healthy. But, I wish to add one more item to this checklist, while looking for the first few jobs in your career. And that is the “right boss’!  We all know a boss can make a huge difference to your engagement level at work. But, in the early stages of your career, the right boss is even more important. The first few bosses that you have in your career can be excellent mentors, encouraging and nurturing you in the right direction. 

Try to work with a boss who is passionate about people development. Someone who will take you under his wing and teach you the ropes. If you are unlucky to have not-so-good bosses in the early part of your career, you can lose out on a significant amount of learning, guidance and wisdom that come from a well-seasoned professional. When trying to choose between two or more comparable jobs, let the scales tip in favour of a better boss. It will be “a better decision” in the long run.

Don’t look for a good job, look for a good boss!

Re-size your perspective
A piece of candy was very important when you were 5 years old. At 15 years of age, it was’nt. Not merely a re-sizing of your body, but a re-sizing of your perspective has also taken place. Didn’t get into the college you wanted, didn’t get the job you wanted, the one who studied less than you got better grades! All these can seem extremely overwhelming at the tender age of 22. But, it is also true that these situations will slowly even out over the long marathon of life.

Keep this in mind “Life is not a sprint race, it is a marathon”.

Even if things go wrong (as they will every once in a while) opportunities will still come your way, if you stay on the lookout for them. At a young age, we haven’t really developed our coping skills, and something that gives you sleepless nights at 22, may not even catch your attention at 32. Time is your ally in life’s journey. Develop a larger, more holistic perspective of life, work and play. Don’t allow setbacks to disillusion you, instead learn from them to emerge sharper and stronger. Stay resilient to bounce back from whatever life throws at you.

Come what may, it will NOT be the end of the world. The sun will still rise tomorrow morning, and it will be time to make hay once again! 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Baptised by Butter Chicken - Confessions of a Converting Carnivore

“Did you do justice to the chicken?”

An oft administered admonition to children. It means to lick every shred of meat off the bone. At least, the poor chicken can attain salvation after giving up his life to satisfy your hunger. Some humans have one thing in common with chickens – both can cluck continuously. While this constant clucking can drive one crazy, the connoisseur of chicken is more concerned about the second commonality between humans and chickens – the twain have only two legs.

A chicken leg is one of the favourite lollipop treats for kids. Battle lines get drawn up over the dominion and subsequent devouring of these poor limbs.  Many a night are spent gazing at the countless stars, and wondering how beautiful life would be if chicks had countless legs. Ahem! There is a pun intended here. It’s not just the chicken enthusiasts who dream about “chicks with countless legs” – the human male species abounds with similar fantasies. Someday, I will write a Ph.D. thesis on the human male species, but for now let’s avoid any digression, and stick with the chicks (the eating variety).

The Punjabis are a peculiar pack of meat-eaters. Every celebration from “Happy Birthday to Happy”,  “Lucky getting lucky enough to pass 5th grade” , “Lovely falling in love” and “Pinky fitting into her size zero pink pyjamas” are celebrated with a toast to our favourite bird – the hapless chicken. It is cooked via the Indian spice route, and bathed in golden butter to produce the national dish of Punjab – Butter Chicken.

A couple of decades ago, the stork dropped me into exactly such a household. I have often suspected that the stork had been to a Punjoo wedding feast that day, and was high on butter chicken drowned by a Patiala peg. The buttery bliss he experienced made him lose his sense of direction, and he accidentally dropped me into a Punjabi family. Whereas, I was originally intended to be born in a pious Jain family practicing ahimsa (non-violence) of thought, speech and action. So, now you know why I am the way I am. It’s the fault of the family and the stoned stork! Else, I would have been so perfect!

As soon as I opened my eyes after birth, I was baptised by the holy Butter Chicken, as were all my siblings and cousins. We grew up surrounded by butter chicken and its many cousins like chicken tandoori, chicken masala, chicken tikka, fried fish, mutton curry so on and so forth. 

When I was about 5 or 6 years old, my parents lived on the outskirts of a small town in Punjab. It was a large, beautiful house with a lot of outdoor space. Such an abundance of open space may lead one to experience the beauty and tranquility of nature, and ponder upon philosophical questions like the meaning of life. In our case however, the open space was viewed as nature beckoning the piteous chickens. My ever-efficient fauji father promptly utlilized the space as he thought best - by keeping a poultry! He was delighted that he could fatten up the birds his own way, and have an endless supply of the birds for his own brood.  I think there was a hidden agenda here as well. He probably wanted to ensure that his children were baptised completely into the Cult of the Carnivore. None of his progeny should ever become a lowly grass eater (ghaas phoos khane waale).  That would be an affront he would not be willing to bear. 

And then one day, when the birds were clucking joyously and trying to spread their wings in short flights, the strings of compassion began to stir in me. A lame chicken was about to end up as the piece de resistance on the dining table. I begged my father to have mercy on him, and let him live. I did succeed, but only in robbing Peter for Paul. There was another poor bird which showed up as the show-stopper for dinner. Temptation and compassion are’nt very good friends. That was a lesson I learned that night, as I competed for the chicken leg and licked the gravy off my fingers.

For the next eighteen years, Compassion knocked at my heart from time to time only to be locked out by Temptation. Then one day, it knocked very hard, and shook me. It was the day my elder son was born. My heart ripped apart as I saw the helplessness of a new-born from such close quarters. I thought of the similar helplessness of the animals that satiate our hunger. This time Compassion won the battle, and I was able to give up eating non-vegetarian food. I started practicing ahimsa of thought, word, action and became a saint. Free from the karmic cycle of birth and re-birth, my soul soared and became One with the Almighty – it was the quintessential “lived happily ever after”, end of story.
If only pigs could fly!

Compassion and Temptation continued to battle within me, and Compassion did have a winning spree for 3 years. I thought I had finally overcome my desire to eat meat, when suddenly all hell broke loose. I was invited to a Coorgi wedding! Surrounded by heavenly meat dishes, it was akin to an onslaught of rain on parched land. I was like the shark from “Finding Nemo” – who keeps telling itself that “Fish are friends, not food”, and then goes berserk when it sniffs blood. I was back at square one, competing for chicken legs and licking gravy off my fingers. And Compassion was defeated yet again, as Temptation strutted around claiming victory for another ten years.

It did’nt help to have a family that loves eating non-vegetarian food, and will cook it especially for you. I was often told that “Sher mar jaayega, magar ghaas nahin khayega” (the lion will die, but it won’t eat grass). Actually, this is my father’s favourite line whenever I refuse to eat chicken. Nevertheless, my grit has turned the tables on the treacherous Temptation for about three years now. Ninety-nine out of hundred times Compassion wins. The one time that it loses is when the aroma of a tempting meat dish drives me to temporary insanity.
Yes, I know a miss is a miss – whether it’s by a minute or by a mile! Yet, I continue in my pursuit of ahimsa – Hum honge kaamyab, Hum honge kaamyab ek din……

Disclaimer - This is merely a narrative of the author's personal experiences. There is no disrespect intended towards any community, nor towards people's food preferences. The article is written in good humour, and does not intend to convey anything more than being an interesting read.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Half a kilo of happiness

Four eggs, 2 packets of milk, 1 pack of biscuits, and half a kilo of happiness. This was the shopping list 13 year old Harsha’s mother gave him. She was an interesting mother. One who believed in using innovative puzzles to sharpen her son’s brains. Her shopping list would usually contain one mysterious item. If Harsha could crack the code and unravel the mystery, he would earn Rs. 50.

When Harsha started learning chemistry in school, his mother asked for 1 packet of NaCl (sodium chloride) in the list. Sadly, Harsha could not decode it, and lost this battle of wits to common salt. Another time she asked for cottage cheese dumplings in sugar syrup. Harsha was smart enough to figure this out, and strode home triumphantly with a can of rasogollas in his hands, and two of the dumplings in his mouth.

Today, he was in a hurry for school and didn’t glance at the list, as he slipped the slip of paper in his pocket. The same old, grey building, usual subjects, and the same boring teachers. Eventually, the day’s quota of school was done by 1 p.m., and he set off on his bicycle to the neighbourhood grocery store. 

Glancing at the shopping list, he started reading out the items loudly to the busy shop keeper.
Eggs, milk, biscuits, happiness…..he read out cheerfully. The shopkeeper asked him to repeat the last item. This time his mother’s mystery shopping item seemed to be “half a kilo of happiness”. Fumbling with the eggs, the shopkeeper gestured questioningly. The boy repeated… “happiness”, hoping the shopkeeper would help with decoding the mystery. The shopkeeper replied with a sneer, “we don’t have that brand of soap here”. Failing to catch the wisecrack, Harsha thought that happiness was a brand of soap. He asked the shopkeeper if this particular soap was out of stock, and how long it would take for the refill to come.

It was lunch-time, and the hungry shopkeeper didn’t have time for a cheeky schoolboy “searching for happiness in his neighbourhood grocery store”. Handing over the other goods, he retorted angrily that the happiness soap was’nt sold in his shop, and in so far no one had supplied it. The boy was free to check out the other stores.

With his bag of eggs, milk and biscuits, Harsha trudged along to the next shop in search of the happiness soap. The shopkeeper chuckled and said that happiness is more likely to be a pill than a soap, and would be found at a medical store, not in a grocery store. At the medical store, the chemist laughed his head off, and said that if someone supplied those pills, he himself would be the first one to take them.

Harsha could see Rs. 50 slipping out of his hands, as he failed to crack this puzzle. He looked up the dictionary to check if his own understanding of happiness was correct. He was right, the dictionary defined happiness as a state of being happy, it was a feeling and not a thing. How could his mother ask him to purchase a feeling? Feeling quite miffed with this mother, he told her that he could’nt find happiness in the grocery store, and added “How can you purchase happiness, Mom? It’s a feeling, not a thing”

His mother smiled and said “And that is exactly what I wanted you to learn! This is a very big lesson in life, my son. Happiness cannot be purchased in any shop, it has to be worked at within. It is not a bar of soap to wash all your sorrows away, nor is it a magic pill that you can buy at the medical store. There may be some times in life when happiness is effortless, but there are many other times in life that it takes hard work. Throwing up your hands in the air and saying that you are not happy will not lead you to happiness. Instead, make your happiness your own business. No one else will take the responsibility for keeping you happy. That responsibility is yours and yours alone”

Mukta woke up from her sleep, and her dream ended. She had been dreaming about teaching her son this important lesson of life. Harsha was still asleep, and Mukta went to wake him up to get ready for school.

Later, when she was by herself, she started writing down her thoughts, which she intended to share with her son as he grew older. She wrote “People and situations may become unpleasant from time to time and chip away at our cheer. But a chronic unhappiness syndrome has two root causes – laziness and fear. Both these are conquered with introspection. We need to remember that inside us is an endless fountain of joy, and only we have the power to turn the lever off and on. The obvious keys to open the gridlocks of laziness and fear, are hard work and courage. Easy to preach, but tough to practice. Hard work and courage can keep this fountain of joy flowing. And, it is this freely flowing fountain of joy that nurtures our passions, hopes and keeps us alive.”

Then, as an afterthought she wrote “And one more thing – Happiness is the child of freedom”. She wrote this and smiled to herself. This insight was the reason she had named her son Harsha! ……..Harsha, the son of Mukta

(Mukta means free in hindi, and Harsha means joy)