Thursday, May 28, 2009

Of Colors, Sparkles And More

Walking inside, my eyes widened and my antennae sparked up. A few steps and my antennae was suffering from overload, my eyes darting everywhere, my mind screaming to focus and my body spinning to take all of it in. I acted like a bounding puppy gone out of control and people had to regret not having brought a leash. I was steered and veered as I distractedly bounced hither and thither, trying to touch, trying to reach into the colors as my eyes drowned into the glitter of the tinged reflections. Oh if only Escher could see these recursive illusions; of an amphitheater, of endless spirals of staircases that lead to nowhere, of shapes that emerge at different perceptions, of angles inside angles, of colors wrapped around layers and layers of more colors, of trees and flowers ethereally floating inside cushions of green and you are left pestering the helpful lady how one could paint without brushes. Maybe that's how my life looks... endless illusions, confusing shapes from a zillion perspectives.

"Why can't I make one!", I whined as I peered into the exquisite goblets of the Mesopotamian era. Surely if they could back then, I should be able to with all the sophisticated tools now! Ah the smart Germans... weren't they ingenious to create trick vine glasses that were an interplay of complex geometric mazes and artistic splendor, making sure the vine would trickle out only when the glass was titled at intelligent angles? Talk about guarding against intoxication.

And then you see how it's done. Even after countless videos seen, it seems like magic when the artisan blows, twists and melts to create those beautiful shapes. Layers after layers, he pushes it inside the kiln and you wonder how your personality was similarly shaped with so many levels of such layers. Tempered with every situation, a powerful force pushing you into the burning heat of the kiln forcing you to set your ways, your shape; but it's not all, you come out and get molded further. Yet, I can't look into myself with the clarity of such transparency and make out every layer behind layer, every little nook, shape and color of that layer and how they all add to my collective personality. They say if it's opaque then it needs more heat, more tempering, and perhaps that's why I have a long way to go before I can see straight through myself.

But that's not get to see how straight boring lines can be fused and shaped with nimble hands to create an elegant stag, a happy dolphin and a leaping shark. As I wailed "I want to learn", I was dragged down to the market place and my mind exploded. It was my entry into heaven... rows and rows of sparkling colorful treats, I frolicked in the radiance of the colors and grabbed those meager few I could afford.

It was with a heavy heart that I bid adieu and as I walked away I wondered if I'm only indulging in a materialistic streak. But enjoying such art was so elevating that my mind was drugged; serenity engulfing every pore, steeped in the colors, the geometry and the benevolent glitter.... almost psychedelic. And I know that no amount of words can describe my experience at Corning Museum of Glass.

And oh, no prizes for guessing what souvenir I brought back (among other things).

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Elixir That Turned Bitter

Vitalia has in her possession the secret to eternal life. However she now vows to destroy it. Two hundred years ago, a genius scientist, Dr. Makropulos had given her the formula and the then foolish Vitalia had drunk it. After having seen all her loved ones die and continue to die, she struggled with her eternal imprisonment. She had lost her drive, her ambition to succeed and survive, and her enthusiasm to discover the splendour of the universe and revel in her eternal life. All she wanted was to rest in peace, so much so that ironically death seemed to be her only "ambition" and it gave her more purpose to her existence. She finally managed to get the antidote to the elixir of life. She'd consumed it a few days earlier and was happy at how her body was rapidly weakening. All that was left was for her to destroy the elixir and the secret formula, for she wanted no one to go through her misery. She poured the elixir down the drain and prepared to toss the piece of paper that contained the formula, into the fire... (Source: 'The Makropulos Case', in Problems of the Self by Bernard Williams)

It's not uncommon to see even a ninety year old person regret on the inevitable brevity of their time left on this planet. Very rarely do we hear or come across a person who is satisfied with what they have accomplished in the time allocated to them and is ready to accept the end of their life with graceful contentment. The greed and lust for life almost seems insatiable - and this is perhaps due to the romance associated with impermanence. We have the thirst to travel and explore the world, reach goals, experience all emotions and drench in every drop of the journey before our time runs out. But no matter how much time we get, I'm not sure we're true to our inner passions - at least not until the gong of departure resonates in our ears and jolts us out of our complacence. No amount of "extra time"seems enough. Despite all of us reciting the rhetoric on living life to the fullest, most of us don't stay true and slump into our complacence.

And when we are gifted with eternal life, there is no longer the pressing drive to live life passionately before the sands run out. Infinite amount of time means there are absolutely no deadlines. We have the blissful option to sleep and indulge in a life of meaningless pleasure for as long as the universe is alive and can still decide to pursue any goal at any point in time. Well, we all know how we humans function in the absence of deadlines, stress and concrete goals. Below is the popular human performance curve, in relation to stress. No demands, no deadlines, no stress lead to boredom. Imagine living a life of boredom forever. An eternal pursuit of goals, challenges and interests to save ourselves from boredom... how long can one maintain such a momentum of energy?Seems as if the only certainty in life - death, does indeed provide us with a sense of focus and purpose to our existence. Of course, it's perhaps just a pessimist who would choose to remain bored if granted immortality. An optimist might look at all the influences s/he can have over the world, the amount of knowledge they can gain and alter the future course of humankind and the universe. And I'm sure the optimists wouldn't commit the same naive mistake as Vitalia - they would make sure their loved ones are given a dose of the elixir and share an eternal tale of togetherness. Or perhaps being true optimists, they would look forward to forming new bonds of love to experience every generation of the human race...or they might have evolved to a state of emotional detachment wherein the need for emotional fulfillment dwindles and their overdeveloped rational mind takes over.

In a way, if we believed in our souls to be immortal, aren't we all cycling through multitudes of human generations till our thirst for life is quenched and our soul is ready to detach and exit?

Well, rather than hope for eternity it seems more pragmatic to not wallow into the depths of our little pots of existence, and then jump around lamenting about our regrets and time wasted when the heat gets to us and death looms closer; like the frog that frittered away precious time till the water started boiling and it was all too late.

PS: A while back, I read a similar discussion on Sumi's forum, which has lots of interesting trains of thought.

Monday, May 18, 2009

When Rationality Demands...

Sophia had always prided herself on her rationality. She would never take a decision that didn't conform to rationality and reason. Some motivations are of course not driven by reason - love, taste, character etc. But Sophia's argument was, not being rational didn't always imply irrationality. While it is neither rational nor irrational to prefer potatoes over tomatoes, it becomes irrational when a person who loves potatoes buys a pound of tomatoes, when circumstances don't dictate the purchase of one over the other. However, Sophia is faced with a dilemma now. A very intelligent friend of hers is trying to persuade her that it would be perfectly rational to set off a bomb which would kill millions of innocent people, without any foreseeable benefits that might arise due to the massacre. Sophia is sure that her friend's logic is skewed. But using her rationality she can't seem to place her finger on it. And the argument suggests that she needs to set off the bomb immediately, so time to think is hardly an option. Sophia is plagued with doubt, for she has always been against intuitions and hunches and only favored rational analysis. However if she follows reason in this case, she seems to feel that she would do a terrible wrong by killing people. Should she knowingly follow the less rational path, or trust reason over feeling and detonate the bomb? (Source: The Pig that Wants to be Eaten, Julian Baggini)

What's up with these successive discussions involving bombs and massacre?! My blog is going to be soon blocked if this trend keeps continuing. First off, I really am not convinced with this excerpt. I don't know how an argument could be rationally solid if it involved -1) committing a gross crime of massacring thousands, and 2) have NO benefits from committing such a crime. I really cannot think of an analogous scenario. Rational analysis always consists of costs, benefits and risks triangle as part of decision making. If benefits are zero, and the costs SO high, I cannot fathom what sort of a rational decision-making strategy it would fall under. What could the "rational" motivations for such a crime be?

The reason why I'm so convinced that there has to be a flaw in the argument is not entirely due to the fact that there are no benefits. It is mainly due to the fact that the outcome of such rational thought is evil and morally wrong, and I've been conditioned to believe that objective truth/decisions arising out of reason will only lead to good, not evil. And that is my little prejudice, for I have failed to remind myself of two aspects -
1) good, evil, right and wrong are perceptions. Hitler had his perceptions of "benefits" when he waged the war and tortured the Jews. From his view, his decisions could conform to rationality and reason due to his assumptions, inputs and perceptions. However my immediate objection would be that his "reason" was flawed and doesn't objectively correspond to universally accepted norms/"truths". Yet, I also am aware that there are no books on universal "truths"; everything starts getting subjective.

2) reason without feeling, need not always lead to morally acceptable "good" decisions. Imagine a ship were being run by a machine with no human intervention. Due to a storm the ship is flung off course and there's very less fuel to navigate the ship. The machine has alerted rescue operators. In the meanwhile the machine takes an inventory of the rations available on board and decides that they have just enough to sustain the 50 member crew for 22 hours. Now the machine spots a man hanging onto a skimpy piece of plank, shouting for help, a little further away on the waves. The rational calculation spits out the result that spending fuel and rations on rescuing this man will put the other members of the ship at high risk of surviving. Hence the machine rationally decides not to rescue the man (saving one versus millions, again). Well, the decision still is "rational" if feelings , emotions and moral conditioning were isolated.

I'm reminded of a statement I read long back - "A psychopath's decisions maybe socially unacceptable and irrational, yet inside his mind, the decisions and acts were very much acceptable; they were psychologically rational, yet socially unacceptable, due to the presence of only "reason" and no feeling." So where am I going with all this? Is calling Sophia's friend/Hitler a psychopath my conclusion?

I understand that although the massacre doesn't seem to hold any benefits to me or Sophia, in the eyes of someone (at least the perpetrator) there should be some "benefits," for even a psychopath is assured of the benefit of satisfying his aberration. If Sophie herself cannot see any such benefit that can rationally convince her, she can comfortably bank on rationality to not carry forward with the act. But if she can perceive benefits, she most certainly needs to involve both her heart and mind to settle into a middle ground before "cold-hearted" logic dictates a move; and this decision is not as simple as buying potatoes or tomatoes, it involves thousands of innocent lives. The gravity of the situation begs to involve feeling along with reason. The previous post on exercising torture to save millions is one of the trillions of cases in the real world that debates on whether or not to involve the heart in such decisions.

Human beings have evolved to develop more emotions, empathy, and compassion to their species and to others. Otherwise we would still belong to the barbaric tradition of killing people with a disease that has no cure, in order to save ourselves. At such a stage in evolution it is a sign of barbarism if the heart is not given a chance to be voiced out, during such decision making.

Now onto the mention of intuition. What is intuition? In this excerpt, intuition is totally isolated from rationality and is tainted with a "soft" color of gut-feeling. Is intuition really so cut off from rational thought? A book that I recently read paints a very different and surprising picture - can you imagine doctors in ER and firefighters in emergency rescue operations acting on their intuitions to save lives? And yet that's how experts make decisions! How does an expert cook? Is it their conscious cognitive effort that goes behind how much of what to put, when and how to judge if the food is done. How do they react when they have the faintest smell of a cake burning? Ask them for rational analysis and tips and you would get nothing, except a few hints on sensory perception. Such knowledge/skill is quite tacit and it's hard to verbalize our actions through rational means. The author and many other researchers claim that intuition is nothing but our ability to perceive very subtle cues in the environment to inform our decision making, which in the end almost appears automatic and intuitive. Even those like Einstein and Feynman have claimed that their discoveries were a result of their intuitive imagination that was further explained through mathematical equations.
But not all of us are geniuses to have the clarity to rationally verbalize all of our intuitive feelings. Feynman hence urges engineers to develop intuition and not always rely on analytical calculations.

But the word intuition is ascribed to many terms - ESP, sixth sense, clairvoyance and other concepts that go against the notion of free will, and that opens a huge can of other pestering questions that have no definitive answers. But the scientific definition of intuition at least attempts to bridge the gap between perceptual sensory cues (feelings) and reason. So at the end of this boring ramble, I insist that Sophia needs to use both her feelings and reason to make the decision. In this case, if her feelings overwhelm the cold-hearted logic of massacring thousands , especially when she foresees little to no benefit, it is justified to bank on feelings alone, for relying on feelings to make a decision is not necessarily irrational.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tortorous Options

Hadi's captives were far more stronger and stubborn than he had expected. But he was bent on breaking their resolve, if only he could follow through on his threats to them. The father, Brad, was the real villain. It was he who had maliciously planted a bomb in the middle of a populated city, promising to kill thousands of innocent civilians. Only Brad knew where the bomb was planted and how it would detonate. His son, Jim, had no connection with this scheme and knew nothing about it. Hadi's trained intelligence told him that Brad would hardly utter a word if he were to be tortured...although he suspected him to break, if he were to see his son, Jim, being tortured in front of him. This is where Hadi's dilemma arises. Being a proponent of anti-torture, he was torn with the options available. The dilemma made it even more hard on Hadi, for Jim was innocent and any torture inflicted on him would be grossly immoral. Unfortunately, if this option wasn't exercised thousands of civilians would soon lose their lives. Hadi's moral courage was being tested. (Source: The Pig that wants to be Eaten, Julian Baggini)

I put off analyzing this dilemma for a while, because I was growing a little weary of the theme of right versus right. But my main impetus for discussion is to understand the reasoning behind different people's perceptions of right and wrong. Such views add multiple dimensions to the scenario and guide rationality into different avenues never ventured before. So I'm back again with the theme of moral dilemmas.

The above scenario is such a classic model to test the Utilitarian Theory of moral evaluation - "The greatest good to the greatest number". We've heard such rhetoric on sacrificing one to save millions. And this is a classic case for such a statement. I'm reminded of another question we used to be asked while young -- "Imagine there is going to be a nuclear holocaust, which can be averted (magically) by killing one person. Would you kill that one person to save humanity?"

In this case, the person is not killed, but "merely" abused physically and mentally. Does torture therefore get justified to some degree? Previous discussions weighed the dilemma of one's survival versus morality. But this one goes a step further and puts the responsibility of saving thousands of civilians on Hadi, with a very difficult and immoral option left to exercise. Hadi need not worry about saving himself -- it's his integrity versus thousands of families.

Rules and laws never work in all circumstances; to a large extent it's important to follow the spirit of the rule, rather than the letter. Therefore there is no denying that in this particular case, the mere contemplation of torture is inevitable and to some extent is justified. If we hypothesized that Hadi did go ahead with torturing Jim, such an exceptional case of justified torture can turn into a universal rule of exception by itself and may be exploited; especially when in the present world, prisoner abuse and torture are being grossly exploited and taken to inhumane levels. Soon enough thousands of innocent people who are not even suspected of criminal offense maybe tortured under seemingly analogous circumstances. It may not be a wonder if sons and daughters of alleged criminals get dragged to the police quarters to be tortured to gain knowledge of gang leaders and stolen jewels. I know stolen jewels versus thousands murdered is not the same equation. But it just doesn't sound "right" to justify this crime under the clause of an exceptional circumstance, whose consequences are much dire than lost jewels.

I wish I knew a little about criminal psychology and intelligent manipulations. Surely, there should be some other manipulation strategy that might work, rather than resort to torture. But I don't have much insights and no such training. All I could think of was to manipulate the son and make him cooperate by pretending as if he were being tortured, while in reality he was not. Hadi can threaten Jim that he had two options - 1) watch his father being cruelly tortured to get the truth out of him, or 2) cooperate with Hadi and pretend as if he were being tortured so that his father will tell the truth and also be saved from a grueling sentence from the court. The sort of deals lawyers present by asking the criminal to plead guilty or cooperate in exchange for reduced sentence. If Jim agrees, he can be asked to pretend being in pain while fake electric shocks were administered? I don't want to get into more details on how to put on a fake-torture act and turn this into a squeamish post, but that's my general line of thinking.

I know, in a way I have averted from dealing with the problem head on. What if Jim flat out refuses to cooperate? I don't know. In the worst case maybe Hadi, in view of his high moral integrity can make the court arrest him with charges of torture on an innocent civilian, if he does resort to that option in a dire attempt to save lives. His arrest will then continue to serve as a reminder that torture was being condemned despite being used at such a tough circumstance. He could also "tone down" on the extent of torture techniques employed. However, I still would argue to find other means of manipulation and extend on the fake-torture theory I presented.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Speculations on Corruption

I've been diligently keeping up with the everyday marathon, but my ideas are frozen; frozen from the impending deadline making my soul churn with guilt as I race through ideas. So I succumb and decide to recycle yet another writing and will leave the blog-world at peace for a while.

This was yet another idealistic speculation on why people tend to be insincere, immoral -- well, corrupt. At an age when I could only comfortably crib about the career path I'd been flung into, I scribbled something down. Again, idealism at it's hilt.

From March 2005

Being corrupt is commonly defined as being dishonest, insincere, immoral, rotten or spoiling something. It cant just be yet another common attribute of man because its his tendency to be dishonest and insincere. No, that’s not true. Why then are there "corrupt" people?

Here's my theory:
We always give our best to something we love doing. A sense of commitment, responsibility, accountability and sincerity come with it. If a person loves his job, he enjoys working on it, respects it and is willing to face the hardships it might offer. Most of us in India, stick to a job mainly for survival. It pays money. I need to feed my family. There is no personal and wholesome commitment offered. When you don’t even like your job, don’t recognize its significance, and just orient yourself towards money, insincerity grows.

Apparently India has moved to a stage where all bright boys and girls aspire either for engineering or medicine. The ‘unfortunate half baked’ ones are doomed for other courses. But they’ll be pushed all their life to join the stream taken by the ‘elite cream’. If every one is herded to work as engineers, what happens to the quality of that profession?

The real potentials of an individual are never analyzed. Its true that some courses are difficult to take. It's not easy to reach all the comforts and luxuries that the common path provides. But it’s the amount of enthusiasm, talent, courage and passion you have for it, that takes you to heights. Dignity of labor must be realized.

But most people here are driven to take up a job, just for sustenance. How can they give in their hundred percent? The trodden path is always considered the safest. An ethically conscious man strives to do his best, no matter what job he does. But if a man with a great talent for music is put in a bank, he cant contribute his best. Its not enough that he’s just ethically refined. The working of any system depends on the aptitude of each and every one of its components.

Maslow’s hierarchy can be used here. The needs of man are put into a hierarchy starting with

· Physiological needs---- basic food, water, clothes, shelter.

If a man’s needs are confined to this level, then he looks only for money. The more the better. If he cant afford more, then he finds a way out; even if illegal/immoral. Its not greed, its merely pressure and desperation. He needs to survive and live on.

· Security and safety needs

At this level, sustaining his job is of the greatest importance. How he clings onto it and scrapes his way up to make it permanent and completely secure, is all that he’s concerned about.

· Affiliation, or acceptance needs

Only a man with a job is respected in the society. A man who brings home more money, is loved more by his wife, children, parents, and friends. The man who can afford to send his kids to the best school in the neighborhood, gets an implicit respect. Neighbors ‘accept’ him as their friend. So at this level again, his needs are restricted to how well and how much he is ‘accepted’ and liked by his society, and he feels "justified" to do anything to get there.

· Esteem needs

‘Power’ is a magic word. It commands respect and authority. A man with power, rules. A politician’s main need is to reach for that. The economic status of a man gives him power over the ones below him. Therefore at this stage, his need is to command, rule and be respected.

· Self Actualization

At this stage man has a desire to become what he is capable of becoming—to maximize one’s potentials and to accomplish something which will appease his inner-self.

Most of man's needs are misplaced. Unless man reaches or realizes the stage of self actualization, his needs justify and reflect the insincerity and dishonesty in any work he does. If a politician enters into the field to gain power and not to accomplish anything significant, his activities will only border around how to achieve his need. His means justify his ends and corruption bloats. He has no love, dedication, sincerity in his work. The system slackens and corruption grows.

The quality of any profession is dependent on the people involved in it. Love and commitment towards work, if developed, increases the efficiency of the overall system. I think it would reduce insincerity to a large extent. Of course common tendencies of greed will be present. But if the judiciary had people who loved to do their jobs properly... things will be under control.

Interesting theory. Now, I only partly agree. Lack of quality cannot be always equated to lack of moral values. This might hold true of general growth and development of a county. But I think it's Utopian to argue that people will continue to be insincere and corrupt unless they look beyond basic needs and search into their soul for their meaning and purpose in life. Basic needs of survival will never leave, and there are very few who can survive without nothing but by being in harmony with their inner-self.

Saturday, May 09, 2009


This theme has been doing the rounds in the blogosphere, but as usual the ignorant me came to know of it just yesterday, through Oorja's lovely post. The aim is to write a small piece of short story within 55 words. The rules as stated by Wikipedia:
A literary work will be considered 55 Fiction if it has:
  1. Fifty-five words or less (A non-negotiable rule)
  2. A setting,
  3. One or more characters,
  4. Some conflict, and
  5. A resolution. (Not limited to moral of the story)
Was quite interesting to me! Especially for someone like me who's such a natural at rambling, it's a real torture to put a cap on my word limit! It's quite an irony that a person who hardly has anything to say/talk in a group has soo much to write about. Quite the classic introvert-phenomenon! Anyways, here's my attempt. I wouldn't call it literary work, just a microfiction that I struggled to fit within 55 words!

The Circle of Life

Maya ran out, hearing the helpless meows and aggressive barks. Hoisted on the maple tree was a terrified cat, hiding from a gruff dog. Maya pelted the dog with angry stones as the cat rushed indoors. Hastening to calm the kitty, Maya turned around to find her little hamster’s tail dangling from the cat’s mouth.


Friday, May 08, 2009

Reflection: Tuesdays with Morrie

"Tuesdays with Morrie", is a book that I read when everyone who visited the library carried the book and raved about it. This was during those times when people casually threw Ayn Rand into discussions and dissected the amount of selfishness behind love and compassion. Not that such discussions don't happen now, but back then the discussions stemmed out of the need to express "elite" knowledge and scorn at anything naive and simplistic. The snooty college-goer attitude. At such an age, when I read this book, as much as I was touched by Morrie's spirit, I was as much surprised that this book was raved to such an extent when all it contained was common-sense and simple straight forward pieces of wisdom. I didn't even want to call it wisdom - it just seemed like "Jataka tales" for adults. Little tidbits of trite advice that everyone knows. Or so I thought. It took only a few years of reality to seep in enough realization in me that simple pieces of wisdom are the hardest to realize and put to practice when you're in the middle of a testing phase thrown by life. Since this is the period in my life where I have been searching for the very same simple words of wisdom, I bought this book from a used book store recently and skimmed through some of the chapters.

Tuesdays with Morrie is a simple book that describes the positive spirit of a dying sociology professor, Dr. Morrie Shwartz -- an old man, sharing some of his thoughts on his experiences with life, with his favorite student -- a young man, Mitch. Uncomplicated, without any embellishments of mind-boggling analogies, profound ontological theories or ideologies, Morrie, a highly knowledgeable, wise, loving and positive man shared his simple and meaningful insights into life. Morrie's effusive love is what that touched me. A person who lived his life in the most simplistic, yet fulfilling way that touched the hearts of everyone he met. Although on his death bed, with his body atrophying by the day, Morrie's courage and positive spirit to continue living his life as meanigful as possible, is a true inspiration. In recent times, Dr. Randy Pausch was yet another positive inspiration. And his last lecture had almost the same forms of advice as Morrie's -- in the end, life's lessons are simple and the same, no matter what generation, country, race or culture one belongs to. That has been my greatest realization.

From my recent perusal, I made some brief notes summarising Morrie's insights and my reflections. They could very well translate to my tenets of living. Morrie's basic mantra in life was "Love each other or perish". The sense of beauty and harmony in that statement is priceless. If you would like to read the book and not see its pearls of wisdom scattered on this post, then please don't read further.

Tenets of Life:

On Death - Ask a little bird on your shoulder if your time has come. Prepare your day based on such a realization. When one is prepared to face their mortality, the wisdom of how to live life in a meaningful way dawns. "Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live."

On Love - Love and memories make one's spirit immortal. Death ends a life, not a relationship. Be strong to open your heart and offer your compassion and love and be willing to accept love into your heart. "Love is the only rational act."

On Family - A spiritual security of unconditional love. Never take them for granted. Always respect each other's needs, ways of life and negotiate your disputes with love.

On Emotions - Don't be afraid to experience any emotion - pain, shame, envy or self-pity. Abandon yourself and let the emotion drench your pores. Then, having shaken hands with the emotion, detach and let go; like a drop of water on a lotus leaf, being in the world but not of it, walking in the rain without getting wet. Learn to accept, then detach.

On Ageing - Ageing is a process of learning as you grow. Look back at the 16-year old you were and be happy that you're no longer as ignorant, no longer grappling with understanding aspects of life, that you're now learning well about. If you're not learning today, pause and reflect. You are as old as you are in your heart. " Realize what is true, good and beautiful with you today. Don't be envious of the young, for you had your chance and lived that life".

On Money/materialism - Pursuit of materialism is disillusionment. One can hope to find true meaning in life by opening out their hearts, caring for others, reaching out to the community and doing what they find real happiness in. The returns are not monetary, but overwhelming sense of satisfaction, and sense of purpose.

On Reincarnation - "What we take we must replenish". The cycle of energy bundle in the universe needs to stay balanced.

On Marriage - An experience in itself that teaches you who you are, who you are not, and who you cannot be. Unless there is a bond of mutual respect, love, values and above all the need to make it work, it can't sustain.

On Culture - Don't let the current societal norms control your thinking and the rules to life and living. Create your culture founded out of love, compassion and rationality. Set no bounds to your thoughts, don't let culture be the picket fences of your mind.

On Forgiveness - Remember to forgive yourself first. Don't hold onto grudges; stubbornness, ego, vengeance and pride are parasites of our own spirit. They suck our positive juices and leave us bitter and weak. Make peace with everyone, and learn to forgive.

"Love is the only rational act", Morrie said. As much as I don't want to dissect it, my life and the world is filled with ironies of it. Sadly the world is not such a simple place, but my hope is that living one's life with simple and pristine guide lights will bring plenty of meaning and purpose.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Sweet Pleasures of Life

This nutella filled sweet post made me aware of an everyday blogging marathon being encouraged! And the theme for May is "Sweet"! Lovely. I know it's a waste of internet space if I'm let to blog everyday (let alone even blog, but it's too late now... no point crying over spilled milk). But I'm justified to one sweet post, after a sweet satisfaction of completing this week's deadlines.

Someone, somewhere at some point made a philosophical observation, which I’m paraphrasing—“Most of the material pleasures in life are like sugar added to a cup of milk. The sugar makes the milk sweet and tasty just as some materialistic pleasures and comforts make life pleasing. But if one starts to pile up spoons of sugar into the milk, the cloying sweetness makes the milk so unbearable to drink anymore. Just so, we must moderate the extent to which materialistic pleasures are pursued. Too much only leaves us with a nauseating sense of revulsion, not satiation. Unfortunately humans need to reach this state of satiated-revulsion for wisdom to dawn in.”

Quite true. There has to be a balance of both “bitter and sweet” in life to appreciate sweetness all the more. Now regarding those tempting and alluring materialistic pleasures — I have always wondered where my “sinful” pleasure-pursuits lay. What are those materialistic comforts/pleasures/aspects that I indulge in without ever feeling I could be satiated? What are those that I have either discarded after having gone a full cycle, or have never had a fascination towards? And finally what are my sweet and simple pleasures, untainted by any materialism?

The knowledge of any/all of this is of no use to anybody, so this is just a waste of internet space. Yet I figured if those introspection came down on paper/blog I could get more clarity about myself. Everybody needs money, food, clothes, shelter for survival… well most us, barring some brave ascetics who live in the wild. So I’m not counting those as material pursuits, unless one’s need for them changes to higher levels of temptation. 

The materialistic pleasures/pursuits that I don’t think I can ever be satiated with:
* Sleeping on a lush bed with the most comfortable pillows and warm cuddly comforter, the temperature just so, the place dark enough to lull me to sleep, yet with a warm stream of light to provide that soothing glow. Maybe add one of those heavenly water trickling mini-fountains imitating a gurgling stream (or the birds of the rain forest), or best yet have the rain drops patter on the windows. Bliss…. I don’t think I will ever be repulsed with a plush looking bed and pillow set…ever!
* Earrings — But not gold, or diamond or anything with an expensive gem on it. I hate those. Not because I’m noble, but just because my taste happens to be little too “unrefined” to crave for artificial, colored glass beads hanging off a low grade metal.
* One day I hope to own a fancy aquarium with lovely plants, beautiful pebbles and exotic fish. No amount of fish and plants in it can satiate me enough. Along the same lines, I have decided to start amassing fish-collectibles. Any souvenir/object that looks like a fish and I can afford, will be mine. I plan to have a cabinet full by the time I leave this planet. How noble.

The materialistic aspects that I have been satiated with:
I used to be fascinated with make-up sets as a child…probably because I was banished from even going near one. I’m sure most girls have gone through this period of longing for a lipstick. There was a certain fascination associated with looking at those alluring colors, rich texture and glistening package that words couldn’t do justice. I was always told that wearing lip color will make my lips black (mom pointed to Black and White Saroja Devi on TV with her beautifully puckered black lips). Yet I have craved and longed for one, and I finally got to when I was let loose (or rather when I ran away) to be on my own. I was numbed with the amount of choices I had and went crazy with the decision I had to make among the 60 different options. I tore myself and finally picked one, came home tried it on and rubbed it off, then tried it on a little different and then rubbed it off, until I realized I was not bold enough to wear it and go out, for I looked completely artificial. So I went back to the store to try something subtle, something shiny, and something that tasted like berries. Armed with one of each kind I eagerly went home, tried each and hesitantly wore one the next day. I went to the restroom within 10 mins and rubbed it off not being able to stand the self-consciousness. So there, I have issues. I never wear lip color in a professional setting, but the whole craving and temptation has satiated. I no longer ogle at those charismatic brands on magazines and TV. I view all things related to make-up with a detached eye.

Simple pleasures I enjoy:
* Blowing soap bubbles. Sitting with a soapy liquid and blower and blowing colorful bubbles that dance around in the breeze
* Staring inside a tulip and marveling how nature knew just which combination of colors should be painted even on the insides of flowers.
* Waking up at 6 on a Saturday morning and realizing I have three more hours of sleeping
* Watching a baby trying to catch a moving toy
* The feeling when a child not only smiles but also says she misses me
* The feeling when an animal seems to miss me
* Being driven around on a rainy day while I stare out at the accentuated greens on the lawns and trees against the purple sky
* Watching the first sprout of leaf on a potted plant grow
* Watching the second batch of flowers blossom from the plant I thought I wouldn’t be capable of growing
* The smell of the first successfully baked cake, that didn’t burn, fall off the tray or turn sour

I’ll stop with that. I don’t know how many of these “simple” pleasures are really as simple and so very untainted by materialism. For instance, if I didn’t have an oven, I couldn’t bake (I’m not smart enough to make fire and survive). I'm not sure how much materialistic pleasure is just taken for granted as a necessity versus an obsessive luxury. A heater and laptop have become necessities, no longer materialistic pleasure -possessions. And I didn't know where to squeeze in that gluttonous craving for potato chips... a materialistic pleasure versus plain gluttony? But that was an interesting introspection.

What are your sweet pleasure inducing possessions? What are those that you gave up or are trying to? How would you define simple pleasures? :)