Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Looking back, looking ahead

As I sit here today, in the wrong side of my 20s, I think about where I thought I would be and where I actually am.

I did not ever think about exactly how life would be at 26, but there were some places I thought I would have been to, some milestones passed, some boxes checked. I had always assumed I would be married by this time, and I am not. I had thought I would somehow be serving my country in some way, now I don’t even pay taxes to her. I had thought I would live in Bombay only, now I almost don’t care about ever going back for good. I had thought I would be an active ex-student of my school, now I pass by sometimes without 5 minutes to enter the gates and look for familiar faces. I had thought I would have life figured out completely; I am now more thirsty than I have ever been. I thought that if I made a decent living, lived in Bombay, somehow had a job that contributes to making India better & was married to a good guy, my life would be perfect. But today I want so much more. Yes I want more than a ‘decent living’, but more importantly I want to live in many of the great cities of the world; yes I want to contribute to my country but much more fundamentally than by being a civil servant; I want to find happiness with someone special but even more, I want to find happiness within myself.

If a chemical reaction completely & irreversibly transforms the object, I wonder how many of those one goes through. And I realize how grey life my life would have been without them. Just like the innocence of a toddler’s eyes, the colour of the twilight sky, the feel of a summer breeze cannot be replicated by the most sophisticated of man’s interventions, I wonder if a life totally under my own control & direction could be ever as fulfilling as that which unfolds by itself. I feel no disturbance by the ever shifting sands of my own aspirations, how can one who belongs in a desert?

I have come a long way but have only just begun. I have many dreams for the future, but a stronger love for the here & now. I am far away but yet completely at home.

Standing on the threshold of tomorrow, I have never been more in the today.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Vantage point

We do know cerebrally that all of life & all knowledge is interconnected. However, it is sometimes the silos which protect us from the vast stormy seas out there and we take refuge. A non-marketing person like me hears the word ‘positioning’ and decides to sleepwalk through the class because it is a marketing subject. I don’t need to know more than enough to answer my exam. Or do I?

Some random unconnected cells of my brain decided to talk to each other – so many things around were pushing them to make the awkward social contact. Some of those I am about to write about.

A certain company recruits some greenhorns and tells them that at the end of the one year long road, they will be sent away to the northern most populated country in the world. A few harmless jokes about the inexpressiveness of the people & the long dark winter are enough for those greenhorns to kick up a big fuss and not want to go there. Then the company wisens up and takes a different position for the next set. They are told that they will get to go to the land of a thousand lakes if & only if they drive along the one year road very well and arrive at its end successfully. It would be their reward for a job well done, to go to the magical land of Moomin and corporate Himalayas. This set is suddenly dreamy eyed about that very same land. It promised adventure & excitement, but more importantly, going there will be a symbol of success, of having met expectations, of having done well. It meant validation & confidence. It was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – it made them want to run towards it. It was a goal to strive for, not a bump in the road their predecessors thought they must brace for. Just changing the rhetoric and nothing else changed the meaning of the experience.

It’s the same reason I have always loved Tom Sawyer. The little kid understood the power of positioning & got his fence painted & managed to get paid by other people doing his work without lifting a finger himself.

It’s like society collectively positioning marriage to women. The ring, the party, the status. ‘You will never be an old maid’. The impact of marriage on an individual woman can be debated endlessly. But it is mere positioning that makes little girls dream about princes, white weddings & picket fences.

Positioning is an art for anyone who wants to sell – products, services, ideas, thoughts, ideologies… It is about knowing those who you sell to, knowing what it is that you are selling and knowing how to marry the two. It is to know which parts to light up and where to let the shadows fall. The simplistic & the pessimistic could call it manipulation. I think it is genius. If all of life is a jagged surface, then positioning is to find the smooth strip where to land your copter on.

This makes me think about something organizations do. Faulty & incomplete as it is, it’s common colloquial practice in organizations to segregate work/jobs as strategic or operational. Consciously, we do understand that planning & execution are too tightly linked & looped to have a real dividing line. But habit & ease have made it commonplace to use this distinction.
Ofcourse it’s true that operational work is as important to the success of an organization, but how many of us aspire to do it? Does it have the glamour of thinking ahead, thinking different, being pioneers in our own way? If operational means mechanical means routine means boring – is it sensible to allow the nomenclature to exist? What is the cost of inaction? If most of the employees will do operational jobs – can an organization allow them to think of their jobs as mundane & bring only part of their minds & hearts to work? If all employees are internal customers, is the faulty positioning cutting into customer delight or in this case employee engagement?
If work needs to be broken down to make it intelligible, divisible & doable, is the parameter of operational & strategic the optimal one? The work remaining the same, we need to find new eyes to look at it. So what is the solution? I think it is not merely about a cosmetic change of name. I don’t know what it is, but it will be one of those Eureka answers – simple & beautiful.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

These are a few of my favourite Finns...

I am the kind of person who takes an immediate liking to something, and also sometimes an immediate disliking. I have been wrong so, so many times in my first impressions that it doesn’t even embarrass me anymore. I have been advised, and I have goaded myself to fight this natural instinct to rate anything too quickly. I work on that, I think I am getting better… really slowly, really really slowly.

One thing that I was NOT wrong about in my first instinctive reaction was how I felt about the Finns. Not many people would agree to the epithet ‘cute’, but that is the first word that comes to my mind. People might find the Finns a little too straight, but for me it validates my own natural tendency and like here begets like. I liked them when I first walked into this country (actually, I must pat myself on the back. I had no opinion of the Finns when I first visited… I actually formed the opinion on my real arrival to Finland which happened to be the 2nd trip. It might not count because I probably made up my mind on the first weekend but trying to use positive reinforcement here so please let’s just go along).

Here are some things that I see around and find adorable….

Escalators are for kissing… Finns are not big on public display of affection (atleast when sober). But there is something exceptional about escalators, especially those from a subway platform. It’s on those that they feel this strong urge to kiss their partners…. Just something I see :)

How they say ‘plus’ before saying the temperature as if it is such a rarity :). Like my favourite one, it’s plus 40 in Delhi in summer. Well it could not have been minus 40 right? I am so used to the minus being out of the ordinary that I would say it’s 10 degrees, not plus 10… In my head it is the Finnish twist to the metric system. The default is that temperature will be below freezing, so if it is ‘plus’ it deserves a super special mention. It’s like we Indians saying, it was MINUS 2 at night in Chandigarh… Perspectives, perspectives…

Summer holiday (not an exclusive Finnish concept, but I saw it here first)…. The legitimacy, the expectation, the build up, the universal applicability… not restricted to children or those not ‘serious’ about their careers… it is such a cute question ‘What will you do on your summer holiday’...

The amazing paradoxical combination of humility and nationalism... They care enough about protecting their language & making everything available in it to translate almost any foreign language book in it. They hold concepts like sauna, summer holiday, Lapland in almost religious reverence. But yet are so humble & self deprecating about their country. ‘Ofcourse must be tough to come here after living in India’, ‘ofcourse no one wants to holiday in Finland’… how beautiful is the mix and how seamless…

Baby hair… Even grown up Finns have baby hair, soft and downy… I love it….

How fast they walk… ok I admit it, all the Finnish grannies taking a leisurely stroll walk faster than me going to work….I was initially a bit surprised, even tried to be competitive. No, every single person walking a kilometer behind me will NOT overtake me in the next 5 minutes… I tried, really did…But eventually, I gave up… they walk fast… period…

Talk Finnish to everyone at first… yes I thought it a bit strange at first. Shop assistants, bus drivers etc all talk to you in Finnish even when you are so obviously not a Finn… puzzled me to begin with, is this their way of saying that you should learn Finnish if you live in this country? But no, I realized eventually, it’s not that at all. When they see you, the colour of your skin and hair and eyes doesn’t strike them, they don’t judge or classify you. They just talk in the way most natural to them, they just talk in the language they know best. They talking Finnish to me is not their way of saying ‘hey keep up or get out’… it just tells me they feel natural and comfortable around me and don’t pigeonhole me anywhere…

Does it make you want to know them?

Friday, May 16, 2008

That elusive thing called truth....

Somethings need to be simplified & put into a visual metaphor before we understand it; especially if it’s something that needs to be commonly understood by a large mass of people. The most obvious example of that is God & religion. At some deeper level many people understand that Sita did not really go through the Agni Pariksha, it is a metaphor for her trials and tribulations & probably was a figurative rather than literal trial by fire. The Red Sea probably did not part in the way we visualize it; it’s probably a way to say that the higher powers collaborate to help those who are righteous – so much so that the Sea was parted to let them pass. But on a surface level, we believe these stories and repeat them to our children and make them a part of hereditary wisdom. These are powerful, visual, memorable but possibly metaphorical stories which widen our eyes, fill our hearts with wonder and the warmth of being part of or descendents of something big and important.

One way to look at it is that human beings need heroes, need to believe in that grandeur and larger than life scope that stories give us. Most human lives are so insignificant in the large scheme of things and we are too smart to not realize it. These stories connect us to something bigger, grander, more important than us.

But that is not really the point of this blog. If mythology has many purposes, one of them being the glory of human existence, my thoughts today are on another point. The point is, metaphors help us digest the abstract. It’s everywhere around us – organizational charts, business models, family trees, maps… these are the obvious ones. But my thoughts lead me to another kind of metaphor – these are not pictoral but they are crystal clear in our heads. Some home truths. For example, the Hindu belief in Karma. It has many parallels in other religions and cultures – ‘do unto others….’, ‘as you sow….’ etcetera. I just think it is also a metaphorical way of connecting a little too directly, things which may have a more vague connection. Can the effect of one bad deed to one bad outcome actually be isolated? Or is it something convenient for society to believe, just to scare people into behaving well? Or is it something that as an aggregate for society is true, that too many people doing too many bad things will usually bring bad outcome for a lot of people. But can we cerebrally ever be sure - and I say cerebrally, not by faith or belief or intuition – that we reap exactly what we sow? I take this only as an example. If you think about it, there are so so many things which are linear at first sight but on closer thought, a lot more vague.

I have a story which illustrates how the incidentals tamper with the truth. I am 12 years old and there is a practical science class where we are boiling water to see that it boils exactly at 100 degree centrigrade. Well you know what – it doesn’t! I felt so shocked – betrayed almost – when the textbook says 100 degrees without any ambiguity how could it possibly be boiling at 104 degrees? Well the teacher said something about atmospheric pressure and purity of water blah blah blah… but in my mind it was clear. Even the textbooks cheat us. They make it simple so we can digest it. Sometimes maybe the information is not important enough for us to be exact. But we can never lose sight that the information is probably not exact.

The linearity of life is an imaginary line. It’s the line marking the north pole…if you go there you will know it keeps shifting a bit. What is easy to understand need not be the truth, it is just the truth told in comic book form.

So what is the point? The point is that the story told is for the lesser mortals. The truth is to be found on my own. The skill is to know where you need to find the truth and where it is enough to be a speck of dust of humanity. When it is enough to eat out of a can and when is it worth the effort to produce my own food with the labour of my hands. What is enough to hear & memorise… and where do I need to go out to find my Holy Grail….

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Art of Work. Work of Art.

Why is it, I have always wondered, that when great work is done, it is not marvelled upon too long? Why is work done with diligence & passion & skill not celebrated too long after it's over? Why is it that what people devote their life, their creativity & the best of themselves is lauded for sometime & then forgotten? It has always troubled me, what will I create that the world will remember & celebrate after I have gone? Why are so many passionate lives spent in vain?

I recently thought of something. There is work & then there is art. For argument sake, let's assume this is top quality work & art we are discussing. Work is celebrated when it is done - it's the flavor of the month. But that celebration does not last long because truly good work is just the foundation for more good work. Thw good work eventually comes into the realm of the ordinary, infact that is probably the test of it's success. Unless it becomes ordinary - it is still not useful. As opposed to that, art may or may not be lauded when it actually is created but is celebrated for aeons after. Work enables something, it is a mean to achieve some other 'end' but art is an end in itself.

The science of making aeroplanes is hardly feted anymore - but planes ferry tens of thousands of people & has obviously brought in tremendous social, cultural & economic growth. If we compare that to a great work of art, say the Mona Lisa - it inspires awe & respect everytime it is looked at or spoken about but has little direct, tangible bearings on humankind in general. The telephone might be indispensable today, but we rarely invoke the spirit of Graham Bell to thank him for his invention. Nokia epitomises human technology & easy user interface for a lot of people - but I am pretty sure that is not the first thought that comes to your mind when the phone rings. On the other hand, a beautiful sculpture, a lilting melody immediately rouses respect for the beauty, the skill, the art, the greatness.

Ofcourse both work & art have their own place in the scheme of things. We can't do without either. Work is needed so people are better off, comfortable, healthy. It's benefits are tangible so it motivates people & stokes ambition. Art is uplifting - it elevates you from the ordinary to the divine, it brings life to a halt for a few seconds, it forms memories & impressions & links us to each other beyond boundaries of generation, time, language & distance. Without art, life would be empty & mechanical.

So if we believe both to be important, what should we devote ourselves to? It depends. The first thing to establish is that work and art need not be mutually exclusive. You could be a hard nosed investment banker by the week and a singer (or atleast a listener) by the weekend. You could be a paper pusher somewhere but choose to spend your evenings decorating your home with 'rangoli'. You could be the most talented actor but still might need to wait tables before your calling is also your living. Secondly, it is also important to remember your orientation & the outcomes of the different kind of work discussed earlier. If you like to see hard results and have the drive to see solid outcomes of your work pretty often - maybe you don't want to spend 3 years of your life perfecting a symphony.

For me - it's a tune in my head & I walk to it. I don't know the whole song but I like what I hear so far....

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rezpekt!

I am supposed to be going through my withdrawal phase. The initial euphoria of a new experience when over is supposed to lead to the feeling of disappointment and irritation, you can see more wrong than right and generally feel low. It is also the dark, dreary, grey time of the year – long nights, dark mornings, a greyish light (if you must call it that) for a few hours in the middle of the day. That compounded with the fact that I grew up in a place where there is bright sunshine for 10-12 hours a day, so a dark 9 am is really shocking for me. I can really wallow in self pity right now…psychology (or something like that) allows me to!

But I am not. I am not sad or low or disappointed. I am more amazed by the day. The more I know about Finland, the more I grow to like & respect the place. I am happy to be here and learn from an amazingly egalitarian people.

The harsh climate could have been an excuse to be selfish and crabby. It’s not. They say the hard conditions teach them to value one another & help those in need. I find the Finns more accepting, helpful, polite and genuine than any other set I have met so far.

The efficiency is to be seen to be believed. It’s a splash of ice cold water on the faces (my ex face probably included) who think that just the hours given to work are measures of commitment & effectiveness. When the Finns agree to some work, then genuinely ‘agree’ and put in their best without excuses or cribs.

All services actually work. Bank cards reach you in a day; taxis accept credit cards and provide warm noise free service (at a price ofcourse); store workers are polite & attentive… I could just go on and on.

It probably takes a long, long time to go from a customary ‘Moi’ if eye contact is made to a point where there is real conversation & friendship with a Finn. But it is also really uncommon for Finns to backbite or sharp elbow someone. This appeals to me far more than a culture where you are friends the day you meet but you also think it is okay to hurt or harm that friend.

The default mode is to trust. Saves so much time & energy it's unbelievable.

Egalitarian, equal, humble, fair, honest. I value my new home enough to feel an affinity to that blue & white flag when I travel outside this idealistic world.

Genuine. That is the word. Genuine in work and friendship. Genuine in the initial shyness, genuine when they become your friends. Genuine no’s, genuine yeses. That is what I genuinely respect. So my self named friend, I finally found the right place to knock my chest and say ‘Rezpekt!’

I get closer to knowing a country I never thought I will know. The honeymoon maybe over, but the love affair continues….

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Wild Wild West

‘The West’ is one of the commonly used phrases back home. The developed West, the quality conscious West, the West of fairness & equality. Where there is dignity of labour and no one starves. Where there is almost no corruption. Where things run on time & people keep their promises. Where things happen 20 years before they reach our shores. Where there are more cars than people. Where children earn their pocket money & move out of their parents’ home before they are 20. Where people prefer divorce to a life of forced togetherness. Where sports other than cricket can be a profession (!), where getting a shirt laundered is more expensive than buying it, where sunny weather is good weather & people think of chicken as vegetarian food. The accent is all the same (basically Brit).. (okay this changed after the wave of American sitcoms filled our evenings)…

They are all the same. Blond hair, blue eyes (okay maybe even green or grey, but really just blue for us), tall and strong. One mass of whiteness with highlights of pale blue and corn yellow and a great life. The West.

Okay so this is a dramatic way to say it, but not completely untrue. Back home, I really did think of the West as one large lump. At most, you could say that Europe was the classier, more expensive version & US was the more commercialized one. But that is about it in terms of being able to see the diversity in the ‘West’.

And as I have realized before, the closer you are to the ground, the more chance you have to appreciate the variety. I realize that grouping all of the Westerners together is as pointless as deliberately clubbing Punjus, Tams, Bongs & Gujjus in the same basket.

I can hardly claim to know all the intricacies of how the different people in the ‘West’ differ. But atleast I have now the awareness that they do. If I keep my eyes & ears, and more importantly, my mind open, I will understand these people better. I will probably abandon the use of the word ‘West’ too :). Learning action item # 1657568, urgent & important!

In Transit

How does it feel to be hurtling ahead at a crazy speed? When life is running ahead at a pace where you can barely manage to keep up with it. When you are experiencing so many stimuli that you are almost afraid you won’t absorb all that you are meant to. When there is a long distance to run but also many sights to see – how do you decide on what is more important?

Maybe I can think of it as being in a train. Yes you look outside once in a while & that puts its speed in perspective. But the rest of the time, it's this stable cocoon, which is doing the pace for you when you are just about aware of the movement rocking your surroundings. Maybe it is actually pointless to keep harping on how fast the train is going, when you have the option to keep that at the back of your mind and think consciously about what is in your hand to do. You have made a choice to be on the train. At some place in your mind you know that the speed is your kick. Then why be afraid?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Conversation - Asking & answering life’s questions

Unlike many of my friends, I am not passionate about sports or music. Mildly interested maybe, but no passion there. Books, films, clothes, history- yes these are special. But what I enjoy the most is basic, intelligent conversation. Inside my own head, but better still, with another person. It fuels my thoughts, gets my mind whirring. It’s the one thing I crave for – genuine conversation. Not to be confused with chit chat or idle banter or sweet nothings or small talk. I mean genuine, wholesome conversation. Like a full bodied cup of coffee. Drenching your insides with something strong and fragrant and powerful. Filling your senses, waking you up. Reminding you – I think, therefore I am.

So, conversation… I look for it everywhere. Sometimes it’s one off. Someone who is randomly interesting, but not lastingly so. Sometimes I go back for more. Other times, I know I should not, because it will dilute the spur it gave to my mind, if followed by insipid, tired, dull talk. Sometimes I find it in the least expected places and people, and sometimes the sureshot ones disappoint me.

Conversations for me are soul food. I live for that moment when I can connect. I live so I can feel deeply and think clearly. It’s when I experience flow, that fleeting time, when hours seem like minutes; those moments that make life worth living. Conversation does not have to lead to anything or give me a definite ‘outcome’. It is pleasure for its own sake, not for what it can lead to.

Some interesting tidbits of recent conversations
“I don’t want to be 60 and realize I never lived”
Said so often, but practised so little. I want to prioritise. I want to learn. I want to be there for those who need me. I want to love and be loved. I want to build something big that outlasts me. I want to be useful for more than just me.

“What do you want to do with your life?”
One of those basic existential questions. Tough to answer, impossible to avoid. So life, my biggest resource, getting spent every second… how can I channelize it so I am happy? How can I channelize it so I can give back. I know I have so much, how can I use my life to actually say thank you to God. What should I do so it’s worth living?

“One half of the world doesn’t know how the other three quarters lives”
Beautiful. What a way to put it – not only do I not know how the other people live or think, I don’t even know who or how many there are. Just a reminder, that no matter how broad your horizon is, you are but one person. You have but two eyes. How very arrogant it would be to think you know all.

“Atypical at home, atypical abroad”
The story of any of us. The little bit of outsider inside each of us. Like me, I was the advocate of women’s education, of having a choice whether to and whom to get married to, remarriage for those who are no longer with their partners, relationships beyond hierarchy, respect for the individual and such other ‘avant garde’ ideas. Now that I am away from my own country, I am always thinking and sometimes talking about respect for elders, a ‘right’ age for marriage, the meaninglessness of relationships without commitment & respect, importance of social safety nets & even near vegetarianism. I am atypical everywhere. A part of society, but a little alone. That is why this sentence struck me. What a thought – atypical everywhere.
How perspicacious. How discerning. How ruthless. How true.

So conversation it is. Are you the next person who will set this mind in motion?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Up above me

I have atleast one example every week about how non hierarchical Finland is. It can range from a person living in the same building as someone else who is so low in the food chain that won’t even show up in his manpower reports. Or a CEO of an international company opening the door for a scatter brained Indian girl. A manager sending her CV (!) in the first introduction she sends to a new hire who is more than a decade junior to this manager. I am amazed everyday. Why is it so different? Why does it feel so liberating and yet so scary at the same time? The respect for the individual gives everyone a chance to claim their own breathing space. It puts responsibility where there is power, and makes questioning a challenge not an insult. It encourages development and gives everyone a chance to think, and speak. It’s the poster boy so to speak, of the Western advancement and development, and the sophistication of the society.

Let’s take a couple of steps back. Why is India ‘hierarchical’? Respect for elders, care for parents, respect for teachers & authority figures is drummed down our heads right from when we are very young. It’s the theme of so many fables and epics and songs and proverbs. The ideal state, or Ramrajya, is where a son will willingly spend 14 years in exile to fulfill a promise his father made to his step mother. Or when Kabir says,
Guru Gobind dou khade, kaake laagu paay, (God & my teacher both stand before me, who should I first pay my respects to)
balihari Guru aapne, Jo Gobind diyo bataye (I fall at the feet of my teacher, who taught me what God means)
It seeps right into the culture, straight down to our hearts. It’s the reason teaching is a noble profession, why old age is more associated with wisdom than with loneliness. It’s why grandparents are as much a part of a child’s mindspace as parents. Why joint families were successful, why no Indian wedding has less than 100 of the couple’s ‘close’ relatives. It’s what makes us who we are, am I really simple minded enough to call it ‘hierarchical’ with disdain and add it to my list of things India does wrong?

And to put in in a corporate context (over simplification again, we don’t turn into different people at work, we are just all at different degrees of pretense) it’s the reason we Indians take leaps of faith, stick with a company, relocate to a new place (which we are apprehensive about but then grow to love), pour in our soul into a job, love our leaders and work for them. It’s passion and faith, if put into the right people, it can do so much more than a rational commitment to a faceless corporate. How can anyone think of it as a pure negative?

So my usual question, which side is correct? And my usual answer, they both are. Depends on the context.

But then what should I be? Ofcourse I can’t (or want to) change my DNA. I respect my parents,I will make changes/adjustments in my life to accommodate them like they’ve done for me all my life. I will accept some people as my teachers & role models, who have put in the time, effort and energy to do the right thing and to do it well. I will look for my leaders to guide me, take care of me, demand from me and be true to me and the entity we work for.

But I won’t think someone is superior because they’ve been around longer. I won’t pander to an ego. I won’t have an ego someone else has to pander to. I will be honest in my feedback, and reasonable in my expectations. I won’t give away my time without understanding where it will be used, and won’t ask for anyone to do something they don’t believe in. I will do my best, and owe loyalty to those who are doing their best for more than just themselves. I will think long and hard, have a mental model which has thought behind it, not just habit. I will learn more and internalize what is harmonious. And most importantly, I will understand what drives other people and respect those drivers.

I will keep the windows of my mind open, but I won’t get blown away by the winds.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Let's make things better

I have heard somewhere, ‘the human mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled’. So true. Our mind is not limited in what it can learn. There is a whole wide world to explore, things to pick up, things to ponder about and as important if not more, things to be able to lose, fashionably known as unlearning.

In the series about my experiences in this new country, I want to share with you a very important attitude difference that I have not ever read in a culture studies book. The attitude that stems from security, that allows you to divorce yourself from what you do and be able to look at your own work objectively.

When I was in India, I had heard that people in Finland work on a single project for months on end. Sometimes it can even be a few years. My reality at that time told me, they will be passionate about that project, will know everything there is to know about it, but will be super protective about it too. I told myself, never ever mention to a Finn that your project is useless/ outdated/ waste or anything even a fraction as insulting as these words. Cmon, this was what he is doing for so long, calling it worthless will be like calling him worthless!

Right? Yes, they are passionate and know everything there is to know. They understand links, they know history, they get the technical, they’ve analysed everything in and around the project. They do a thorough job, no doubt about that. But they are not super protective about it. They are the first to admit when the project lacks in something (I wonder if that also comes by knowing it well) or if they have made a mistake or even if the project is irrelevant or outdated. They know that they are not the project, if it does well, great. But if it doesn’t, then they have failed, they are not failures.

It’s not the same back home. Self image is so linked to the work you do, that if someone criticizes the work, they are insulting you personally. You are your work. It has probably the biggest part to play in who you think you are, and what others think of you. Ofcourse you have to protect it. At the cost of being defensive about your work. At the risk of being trapped inside an ivory tower. Jeopardising the work or the company. Putting your learning on hold. Guard it with your life, lest someone should correct you.

I don’t want to be listing what all India does wrong. I just want to try to learn the best things about this new culture. I want to be secure and objective like these people (whoever they are, Westerners, Finns or my company people). I want to be learning each day. I don’t want to spin my own web and get stuck in it. I don’t want to be the personification of the ‘not invented here’ syndrome. I want to take risks, and I want to be able to fail well. Gracefully accept my ‘developmental areas’ and not euphemise them. It’s for no one else’s benefit, but for my own.

So here’s to one new realization and one new unlearning. I don’t have to carry around the legacy of defensiveness. I can dump it somewhere, and breath in the fresh, cold, crisp air of being a secure worker, an open person and a constant learner.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Intensity, anyone?

There is someone with whom I have had few, but very involving conversations. One of the first few times I spoke to him, he asked me “Are you intense?” I mumbled some half intelligent response, “sometimes, about somethings…”. But that question has come back to me time and again since that day. Am I intense? Can anyone answer this question honestly and completely?

I guess intensity is some sort of continuum. You are more intense than some people, less than others. Those flakier than you think you are very intense, those more intense than you think you are flaky. Like that silly line I read somewhere, if you are driving in the middle the one in the lane slower than you seems like a tortoise, the one in the faster lane seems like a maniac.

But leave aside the comparison with others. I ask you to ask yourself, what are those things you have felt intensely about in the last 6 months? In your whole life?

Don’t those things that answer that question form the essence of who you are? The experiences that have moulded you? Have taught you how to view the world? And more importantly, have taught you how to let the world view you?

And what about those experiences that you don’t feel intensely about? Do they not contribute in making you who you are? If life consists of neutral, not so neutral, not so intense & intense experiences, which are the most defining? Which spin that unique magic that is you?

A very simplistic analogy comes to my mind. Cinnamon cake. If you take the ingredients, it has flour, eggs, butter, sugar and cinnamon, in descending order of quantity. But it’s called cinnamon cake. Not flour cake. Why? Cinnamon maybe the smallest in quantity, but its flavour is so intense that it defines the cake. Our neutral experiences are the like flour, the cake of our personality needs the bulk of those blah experiences. We need what we have in common with others so we can belong to some community, like the sugar in the cinnamon cake makes it sweet so it can be clubbed with the family of cakes. But what defines us, makes us unique is what we feel intensely about, our own little stick of cinnamon.

So go ahead and feel all that. Guilt, sorrow, remorse, frustration, hope, joy, love, happiness. It will add that spice & scent which will make you you. I’ll take a piping hot cinnamon bun over pound cake any day.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Of love...

My good, and not to mention observant, friend, a certain big bad bro, pointed out… Your blog is titled ‘Of life, love & learning’. I can see the learning and maybe even the life, but where is the love? So here’s to you, O sharp one (and may I never get caught in those famous spikes of rage), a list of some of the things I love.

The sudden giggle of a toddler in a crowded plane, and the resulting smiles around. That collective realization, that wherever it is that you may have to run to, there should always be time to smell the flowers.

As I have said before, and quite elaborately, Friday afternoons… Those that come after chaotic weeks, boring weeks, lazy weeks, frustrating weeks. Any work weeks :)

A satisfying, wholesome conversation. With anyone, about anything. Fills your mind like a rich dark melting chocolate inundates your mouth. The conversation that opens your mind, challenges you, tickles you, surprises you, entertains you, fulfills you.

The 2 seconds of silence that come unexpectedly, when you are noisily chattering away with friends. A teacher in my school said, that this only happens when an angel passes through the room.

Sunshine. The warmth in a stranger’s smile. An unexpected phonecall or note from an out of touch friend. A clean house. A new book. Maggi. Cake. A home cooked meal. A great film. A new outfit. An afternoon nap.

Of late, daaru session with some trusted friends. The talks that follow that. The ease, and the kinship you feel with those around whom you can let down your guard. Actually the kinship with any friend you trust, daaru or not.

Plans. Of travel, of dinners, of friends coming over, of weddings. Of the future filled with friends and family and laughter and trust. Of a tomorrow full of hope. Even if I must marry my daughter to a brat friend’s unborn brat (sigh, I hope not).

Memories. Those sweet distortions of the past. Like the pictures which seem unadultaratedly happy, censoring out any irritations or frustrations of that time. Just frozen smiles. Yes we kid ourselves. But then what use is the stark truth when the lie is so appealing. My memories of the times gone by, decades (ok 2 decades at the most) ago or just weeks. They link me to my favourite people. They make those people my favourite people.

So, oh foe turned friend, does this answer your question?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Home is where the heart is...

Someone asked me recently, “Are you homesick?” I made all the right noises, “Yes ofcourse I miss India, but this place is very nice too”. But it set me thinking. Am I homesick? Am I even sure where home is anymore? Till a couple of years back, I was very clear. Home is Bombay. Not even Mumbai, I wasn’t going to let anyone change the name of my city. It's Bombay. Where I was born. Where my parents & my little sis live. Where my school is. Where most of my old friends are. Ofcourse my home is Bombay, no question. It was almost a loyalty issue, I wasn’t going to abandon what brought me up. Bombay, yes, that was always home.

Clarity is a funny thing I guess. It can abandon you sometimes. But all for the good; not for nothing it’s said – wise (wo)men change their minds, fools never.

So what has changed over the past year, and especially over the past month? Ofcourse the obvious changes. I lived in Gurgaon and eventually grew to like it. I took to Finland better and quicker. Having a place of my own, living the independent life, doing what I want when I want. But I think there is more than just the movement. It’s about having met people who have moved often and are better for it. They have the opportunity to develop perspectives; the world is their oyster, they are students of change and variety. I had only imagined their lives. In my mind, their lives were uncertain, their friends were temporary, their roots were not deep, and they were drifters, rolling stones gathering no moss. But now I see them with my own eyes. They as as successful (or not) as those who live in one place always. They have as many friends (or not), they are as happy with their lives (or not) as the ones who don’t move. They are people… as varied as any other group, with as much a chance to be happy as anyone else. But they have what I did not so far – their own eyes to look at a new sky, not the third hand view in a magazine. Their own ears to hear new accents, not those on a television. Their own minds to understand a new culture, not a precooked version from a culture studies book. I want it. At the cost of the growing pains.

This clarity might abandon me again. I might pine for the heat, the chillies, the crowds, the affection. I might want to eat mum cooked food and be 2 minutes away from a friend’s house who I have know all my life. I might want the luxury of someone else doing my dishes and ironing my shirts. I might want to dance all night at a friend’s wedding or celebrate my favourite festivals with my favourite people. I might want my old life back. But not just as yet :)…

Monday, October 1, 2007

To know what i dont know...

Disclaimer: This is going to be a little more winded and self indulgent.

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to describe someone you know well in just one word or sentence? People we don't know, its so much easier to pronounce them 'idiot', 'shy', 'wannabe', 'cribber', 'suck up' or 'friendly', 'sweet', 'nice'... Ofcourse this doesn't mean that those we know little we understand more. Its more about understanding the complexities of people. Getting closer to the picture to see the details. Being 500 m above the ground and appreciating the variety of the terrain. The people you know well, their complexities strike you clearer. Your view of them is more than the one dimensional one you take for mere acquaintances. You know that the generally shy one is really a clown around friends. You know that the 'superbitch' is a caring friend and a protective sibling. Just like when we really get to know someone, who has been an acquaintance for a long time, we discover 'Oh! She is so much nicer than I thought'. There is always an Oh! involved.

But at the same time we can't get to know too many people too well. You cannot see all of the earth at once in a hot air balloon.

This applies to places as much as it does to people. My colleagues back home are much clearer about life and work in Finland than I am. 'Oh people work fewer hours', 'They are so reserved', 'They are too process driven'. I am now too close to this picture to pander to my mind's laziness by letting it believe or accept some generalistic statements. In the 'us' Vs 'them' game, my position is fuzzier than it was 2 months ago. I know a little more than I knew, so I know how little I know. My education is just beginning.

Yes generalizations are useful. It helps your brain organize the copious amounts of information into some semblance of order. Its like the periodic table we learnt to classify elements or the classifications of plant & animal families. There are broad patterns but enough exceptions. A true education will do more than just give you the information and help you understand the grids and frameworks. It will help you to see the contradictions and the complexities. It's not necessary to know all; only to remember that the information we have is like hyperlinks, there is always more to find out if you have the time to click.

Monday, September 24, 2007

One step at a time

On a car ride from Gurgaon to Delhi, a wise man once told me ‘Travel, oh na├»ve one! If you live here forever, you will think that the mountains mean north. But that is not the case. ‘Cause even the Himalayas are south for someone. Just depends on who he is and where he stands’

True and true. It’s a well recorded, documented fact. So I guess it’s pointless to talk about it. I can’t tell anyone anything new about the merits of travelling (especially since till very recently, I needed to be told that myself). But then, why are parents excited when their child says his first words or takes his first steps? He is neither the first nor the last child to do so. Likewise, I am taking my first steps towards understanding how travel builds perspective. Doing what everyone must do to grow up. Such a day brings happiness and hope and excitement. It’s a big day for me!

There are many small and big things I learn everyday. They all tell me the same broad story… its all about context & perspective. Here are some things that struck me today… So obvious yet so huge… I choose to be amazed at them…

Like a Finn told me that her 85 year old grandfather who got widowed 3 years ago now has an 80 year old girlfriend who sent him a mushy SMS on the first mobile he ever owned! And in my own family, a 38 year old widow is told that she now has no purpose to live but to bring up her daughters. Another relationship for her is simply unthinkable.

A more routine instance crosses my mind. The so called successful people in India brag about how they see their children awake only on weekends. On other days, they leave too early, get back too late and are generally too occupied to spend time with their children. Such people are not considered successful in Finland. Infact this is one of the very, very few things you can say to a Finn to completely put him off. Its one of the few things where Finns don’t mind commenting or judging someone’s personal life.

I know of both sides. There are both right in their own ways. I have lived or seen both perspectives. But this is just two. I hope to be a student of human nature and culture. Are two chapters of one book enough for me to be a budding scholar? I know there is a long way to go. But how long? If knowing different people and living in different places builds perspective, how many places are you expected to see before you have enough perspective? Or as Bob Dylan has famously said
“How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?”

And to complicate matters further for me, one of my favourite lines (told to me by a friend on a train journey from Jamshedpur to Bombay, but that’s another story…) is ‘The only thing the human mind cannot tolerate is complete perspective’.

So I need perspective, lots of it, but not so much that it’s too much. That’s tough. Or is it? It’s just like sunshine or exercise or water or love. I need lots of it, but not too much! The right amount will strike me… When the time is right, the truth will reveal itself…

Friday, September 21, 2007

Full of promise - Weekends.... and life!

I love the little bubbles of anticipation that a Friday brings. The approaching weekend seems almost magical in the possibilities it holds. Two full days of fun and rest and friends, and who knows what else :)? What in the world could be better than irrational happiness?

Even if the actual weekend is ordinary or even disappointing, the feeling of a Friday afternoon is unbeatable. I have been lucky to always have a 5 day week, though school, college and work. So Friday has been my favourite day of the week.

Not that the week is too boring or tiring. Not that work is not enjoyable in itself. Infact the whole point of a Friday is that the week exists. It’s the ups and downs that make the roller coaster… otherwise it would be a monotonous journey with no excitement… The Mondays make the Fridays and the Fridays make the Mondays…

Everyone smiles more on a Friday. People are more cheery & relaxed, they talk about weekend plans. Friday is like a mini Christmas every week!

Fridays are all about anticipation. So what is this 'anticipation'? I think one of the things that make life worth living. It’s like hope on prozac. It’s what interrupts the drudgery of human life and uplifts us where we see what is special about it. Anticipation is the feeling before the first date, the first kiss, a new country, a new friend, even a new shirt! It’s the drum roll… and what would life be without that drama… The feeling of being the lead in the movie of your life… Of being special, even if to no one else, but to yourself…

On that note, a happy weekend to you!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A look at my new home

One amazing thing about Finland is the silence. Its everywhere. The sounds that you hear are the sounds of productivity. Keyboards tapping, buses efficiently ferrying people to their destinations, printers whirring, a quick phonecall somewhere... No chit chat, no idling, no banter. The air is of a people hard at work, quietly. Much like the duck which is calm on the surface and paddling away furiously underwater. So much so, that even their children dont cry! I am yet to see bratty behaviour or temper tantrums here.

Its very obvious why this country is successful inspite of the hard conditions and the limited workforce. The people who are around, they work! Just shut up and do what you have to. So much for all those away from here (& I was a guilty party) who scoff at the 4 pm office closing or the month long summer breaks. The Finns earn that fair & square.

Its a big change from India. Office is more noisy & alive. People around you are sharing more of their lives. Markets are noisy, children cry, hawkers shout, vehicles make all the noise they want. Its a young country alive and kicking. Making its presence felt in more ways than one. Surviving the blows, overcoming the hunger, making most of the internal diversity, fighting to make its way in the elite club of the 'developed' countries...

The social lubricant in India is the small talk. The Finns are notorious about their lack of the ability to say sweet nothings... but there is another thing thats works as the social lubricant in Finland... Genuine consideration for others, non interference and equality...

So is the Finnish way better? I dont think so... Is it worse? Definitely not... Its just how it is... Its different....

So whats the point? The point is that a beautiful tapestry cannot be created by threads of just one colour. It takes all kinds. An India need not be a Finland to be successful, a Finland need not be an India to be vibrant. A Finn can live in India and soak in the colours and an Indian can live in Finland to learn sisu. I have so much to do, so much to learn... Cant wait :)

Monday, September 17, 2007

My first blog

Another one bites the dust. I thought I was one of the most devout pen and paper fans… Now I am about to start blogging. I always wondered, even little girls have diaries with locks on them – why do grown people write in the open like that? But as I have seen a few blogs, I am beginning to understand that a blog is anything you want it to be. A diary or journal, a learning log, a digital conversation, anything you can make of it. It can range from intensely personal to completely professional. It can work as a heart to heart with your best friend or could be a phone meeting with colleagues from around world. Anything at all…

But what will I write about? I don’t have anything to say… Or do I? I am beginning one of the most exciting journeys of my life so far. I want to share my experiences with my friends, I want to capture these memories forever, I want to set some people thinking. Have I actually lost the excuse that I don’t blog because I have nothing to blog about?

The old school of thought and the new one sit on either of my shoulders and whisper in my ears. Just that they are not obviously black or white. Or for that matter cautious or tempting. They are just two opposing voices. Let me try to yin and yang them into cooperating with each other.

It’s Finland that makes me want to blog. ‘Why Finland’ is what all non-Nokia people back home asked me when I was preparing to leave. Ofcourse there are the rational reasons. It’s the global HO… the exposure, the contacts, the chance to live in Europe, the role full of promise… But in my mind, there is a slightly offbeat, erratic, almost romantic aspect to why I am in Finland. I went to a Parsi school, not a convent. I studied Commerce, not Science. I went to XLRI, not an IIM. I studied HR, not Finance. Now I am in Finland, not in USA. In a weird way, that makes sense. These were all turns of fate or serendipity, not something I plotted for. But it forms a pattern. I have always ended up in the slightly offbeat, non commercial version of the standard order. Finland over the States just adds up and establishes the pattern. Whatever has been my peer group or standard world view, my life has taken the path not so central. All Indian parents want their kids to study in a convent school, become doctors or go to an IIM. What I have is not better or worse, but its just (in the case of Finland, literally!) the road less traveled. And I hope it will make all the difference.

But I digress…

So blogging it is. What will it be? A fad or a long term outlet? Will I have something to say regularly or will this just die out like my guitar lessons? Will I reveal more than I should? Both the old school and the new one are telling me to take it as it comes…