Sunday, March 18, 2012

Toronto diaries

I traveled down to Buffalo(NY) on my way to Toronto, on a bright day when I got my hour of daylight savings back. I was going to spend a week with my maternal uncle's best friend(Venkat) and his family - Priya Aunty and their 14 year old son, Bhaskar. The week gave me a lot of time to take my mind off the academics, work on my ideas and think about life in general. Some of the ideas which stuck!

Family - I have enjoyed being a loner for a long time now. Though I have been surrounded by great friends at BITS, Unilever, TFI and during breaks at home, my best times have been with myself. To be honest, as vulnerable as I feel and have felt for being single, I enjoy the opportunity it gives to explore myself. All of last week was an exercise for me to observe what nurturing a great family looks like - the amount of effort it entails, the trials and tribulations of having children of your own, the pressures of having a life style which matches your ideals and means and more importantly, recognizing the costs of giving up things that you love to do for things a family wants you to do. Being on the other side of the divide as a silent observer and as a primary school teacher who went to the extent of assuming parenthood, I could see how hard they tried and how anxious they were for their son.  Coincidentally, I was reading Obama's audacity of hope at the same time and especially his thoughts on family. Whatever be the criticism about him and his administrative abilities, I have begun to like him a little more after reading through the book. Maybe part of it had to do with having similarities in life maps, political idealism and ambitions. His chapters on politics and family were honest, moving and very instructive. I could easily imagine myself going through all of it myself. In short, in lot of ways he spoke to my very core - identity, struggles and ambitions. I will leave it to nature to take it's own course  but I can't help but wonder if I would balance a public service life well with family life. At least, I have role models to look up to - close and dear to the mighty and powerful!

Empathy -  “When we grow in spiritual consciousness, we identify with all there is in the world. Then there can be no exploitation. It is ourselves we are helping. It is ourselves we are healing.” This quote by Dr V from Aravind eye care has been going around in circles in my mind for a while now. Partly because it came from a person whom I consider very dear and important, and partly because it spoke to me. A lot of questions have  sprung up within me immediately. My usual way of thought having trained as an engineer and now being trained as an economist is to look for problems I guess. I looked back at myself in the mirror and asked if I could have done better with empathy. So, here goes my random list. If you feel that I am a bad person after reading through the list, you will be forgiven. I have no pretense of being a saint either!

Can I really feel what it is like to feel inferior, depressed or under-confident by virtue of birth, labels and circumstances? Do I really understand the pains of being labelled as dark or downtrodden or dumb or unhygienic or uncivilized?  Can I feel the indignity of having to defecate in public or drink water from an open stream? Will I ever understand what it feels like to be malnourished during my childhood? Can I imagine the suffering of watching your dear ones die prematurely because of hunger and disease? 

Did I realize how my close friends felt when I took the liberties to crack smart Alec jokes on them? Being at the receiving end now, do I have the empathy to believe in transformation? How long will it take before I realize that at a primordial level, all of us are the same? Our fears and hopes, pleasures and pains, love and loss, ambitions and failures, we all have same the currency of spirit. How will I translate all of these questions into understanding the people I come into touch with - my roommate, my classmates, my friends and family?

As most engineers and economists do, I have the innate ability to raise great questions with no solutions! At the root of answers to all the questions, lies my ability to listen and observe very carefully. Listen without filters, observe without bias. A warm heart and a full mind. A heat full of grace and a soul generated by love as Dr. King remarked. Or a Muslim body, a Christian heart and a Hindu soul like Swami Vivekananda said. In reaching for those ideals and following the simple processes I hope to grow in spiritual consciousness. Try to find what is more common and celebrate the uncommon, and in the process find some joy within. There are somethings I am sure plastic cards can't buy and I am glad that it was this way!

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