Reboot Yourself in 2017
What can one say about the year gone by? A year in which a word like post-truth comes into ubiquitous being. A year when many (the world over actually) unabashedly turn alt-right and populism and isolationism pop up their ugly heads. A year when decibel levels of political debates go through the roof and their content plummets to a new low. A year when a smog- coddled Delhi resembles a set for an end-of-the-world, sci-fi film: people walking through the haze with masks, like visitors from another planet. A year when money isn’t money any more. A year much worse than the annus horribilis that Queen Elizabeth lamented about 24 years ago, when the marriages of her three children were coming apart.
A year when…well, I could go on and on. But I don’t want to sound like a plaintive Cassandra. When things get this bad, hit rock bottom, as it were, we brave-heartedly console ourselves with the fact that it can only get better. Therefore, instead of despairing let’s put on a pair of rose-coloured glasses as the old year leaves and the new one makes its entrance; and count the ways we can ‘overcome’ dystopian thoughts. And, begin to make a better world for ourselves and, if possible, for others.
Toning Down Expectations
Resolutions are almost always stillborn. They start evaporating well before January is seen oﬀ by February. Perhaps, the way to go is to try and change the way we are from the way we were, in the process toning down our expectations from life, and from others. Inflation has felled us, yes. We can downsize expenses, things, possessions. More diﬃcult but even more essential is to change our aspirations, especially those concerning the quality of life. If there is one thing that the last year has taught us, it is to not take anything for granted and to be prepared for surprises.
The other afternoon, I sat down in the garden of a friend for some masala chai and chikki. It was the day after cool winds had blown away most of the nasty haze, and blue had returned to the skies. The lawn was velvet- green, the sounds of the city seemed to have been stopped at an invisible sound barrier, even though the house was in a busy ‘colony’ of Delhi. Birds fluttered at the far end of the garden, swooping down to the bird baths and chasing each other. Fat goldfish glided lazily in the little pond and the odd butterfly flew by. My friend, quite exhausted after a merciless, whistle- stop trip across several cities giving talks, sank back in her cane chair, shielding her eyes against the sun no longer shrouded by smog.
“You know, I think we need to rethink life. Why don’t we just slow down? This rushing about for work or to dinner parties isn’t giving me anything. Just makes me tired. I want to savour life, like now.”
Finding The World
Her words brought back what the late painter K. G. Subramanyan, a wise man with a twinkle in his eyes, had once told me when we were sitting in his living room in Baroda (now Vadodara) and I had asked him why he rarely travelled. “At the bottom of my small garden I can see two colourful birds playing and fighting. All of life is here, the whole world is here. Why do I need to go anywhere?” At the time the much- admired Mani Da, as he was known in the art world, was looking after his invalid wife. Elsewhere no longer beckoned! Prolific to an extreme, he painted every day. That is when he was not writing: children’s books, essays and a lot else. What I envied was the fact that he appeared to be living a rich life, right there in his home.
As I listened to him, no trace of restlessness in his demeanour, his words about the two frolicking birds in his garden brought to mind the lines of the 19th-century English writer and artist William Blake: ‘To see a World in a grain of sand, / And a Heaven in a wild flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, / And Eternity in an hour….’
In more prosaic prose: press the pause button and step oﬀ the speeding merry-go-round of life. Exit the rat race. The word ‘savour’ that my friend had casually thrown into our conversation became a little mantra for me. Tired cliches revived — such as ‘Live the moment’. Or, even lines from slightly soppy songs like Forget Domani, immortalised by Frank Sinatra and Perry Como: Let’s forget about tomorrow for tomorrow never comes….
So, today and the moment matter, otherwise life may just slip away between the cracks. But it isn’t just about steering away from the fast lane: slow motion, slow food or slow post. To savour meaningfully also requires a reboot of the self, to retrieve the ability to use our senses that may have atrophied. Recently I came across a newspaper article with an intriguing headline: ‘Humility will decide your next increment’. Apparently the regle du jeu (rules of the game) of blowing your own trumpet at the workplace no longer works in many companies. Braggadocio and flexing verbal muscle may cease to be virtues. Humility, hopefully not of the false kind, might get you the raises and promotions. Not flash and swagger.
Similarly, flash in the theatre of life won’t hoist you up the social ladder. Bling has to be subtle, and your handbags screeching the latest, must-have brand may have to be toned down.
As for me I have, at least for now, started to listen to the birds in our garden, and marvelling at each new flower coming to life.
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