‘Toony’ Boons

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There may only be a few things in life that anyone with any background, including race, creed, color, religion, beliefs, nationality, upbringing, procrastination levels, binging habits, and the number of acquired traffic violations, can understand, appreciate and enjoy. No, I’m not referring to cannabis or alcohol. I’m not even referring to ridiculous Facebook status updates like ‘cough’. Go see a doctor in that case. The overtly sympathizing messages from your online connections aren’t going to drive the flu away. On the contrary, this exercise will provide you with a false sense of friendship and belonging until a situation arises when you really need someone. What was that? No, it’s not free Wi-Fi either. Come on people, it’s cartoons. Since we live in an age where we love screens of all sizes ranging from a square inch on our wrist to something large enough to cover a wall in our bedroom (I’m not counting cinema screens, which are as large as small ships, since most of us don’t own one), it makes us all the more willing to watch cartoons.

I have never met a single person who has not enjoyed at least one cartoon series or is a fan of at least one cartoon character. If you happen to claim that you’re the first to not like cartoons, I say you need to open up a little and be honest with yourself. Cartoons are not a childish fascination so feel free to admit your love for them. I know we keep getting told that there is a time and age for everything, but certain things are ageless. Cartoons are certainly among that group. And what’s so special about the things we do as adults anyway? As children, we may resort to childishness but as adults, we resort to adultery. Try both out and see which one has more disastrous consequences.

I have always found cartoons to be a great connector between people. Growing up I had cousins that were brought up in different towns in India. Now, in a country, as vast and varied in India, everything from your customs and food habits to your entertainment and language change every couple of hundred kilometers. While we didn’t always understand or agree with each other’s habits and lifestyles, cartoon time was when we were all in sync, and watched every little scene with awe, giggles, heightened attentiveness, and a sense of complete joy. After every session, we felt happy and inspired, and discussions that ensued during and after, betrayed no sign of disagreement or lack of understanding in each other.

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Tom & Jerry, and the battles between Donald Duck and Chip & Dale were among my early favorites (I always cheered for Tom and Donald. Too bad the modern-day Donald in his big white house does not inspire enough cheer). To begin with, they are hilarious and even as adults a few minutes of viewership can melt away a fair bit of the day’s tension. They contain very little spoken language (which does not have to be understood), and apart from the tunes of certain classics produced by great musical minds of the past that play in the background, the only other sounds are the uproarious screeches, yelps, groans, grunts, gurgles, hoots, and cheers. Anyone can appreciate the quality and genius of the artwork, the animation, the storyline, and wit. The personality of every character is brilliantly designed and depicted, and any one of them could serve as our steadfast imaginary friend we never had. He-man and the Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe were other cartoons I began to follow. While the previously mentioned cartoons inspired creativity, fun, and humor, these other ones illustrated the feats of heroes and superheroes, good over evil, me over examinations and school projects (And now with the ubiquitous nature of YouTube, stealing a few minutes of cartoon time at work even helps before client negotiations and deliverables).

Cartoons made me believe that I could get out of a tough spot even if it was only fourth-grade math. They showed me the importance of being positive, which has stayed with me till date. I was convinced that no matter what the odds (Cobra always outnumbered the Joes), I could be victorious, in elocution class then, and in life now. They instilled the confidence in me to wield my plastic sword (just like He-Man did) to make myself feel invincible and ready for any challenge ranging from potato sack races and handwriting competitions to hot dog eating contests and Pictionary. And of course, the less fascinating battles of life pertaining to education, careers, relationships, health, finances (or fiancés: the two cannot coexist), and overall development. I realized that I could keep aside differences with anyone over an hour-long cartoon episode, whether it was my sporting rival, the office jerk, my stockbroker (who believed that a broker is someone that is meant to make his clients broke), and the airport security (It’s only a penknife. Since I cannot decide which is mightier, the pen or the sword, this little tool settled it for me.). They make me see that it’s the simple pleasures in life that make us laugh loudest. It’s the childish exuberance within us all that helps us maintain our sanctum.

Cartoons were something I watched with my parents and grandparents, as I do with my 4-year old daughter today. They are almost like a family legacy, as much as the wealth and wisdom that is passed down from generation to generation. And they are so easily passable from culture to culture, and nation to nation, breaking down barriers with true value for entertainment, joy, and oneness.

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Dream On

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If I were to tell you that dreaming could likely be the single most productive task you’ve done in your life, would you believe me? And I don’t mean having a life long dream that we care to achieve, but dreams that occur on most nights while we sleep and try to restore our energy to ensure that we are ready and fit for all the activities we don’t intend to do the following day. I wouldn’t believe me. I mean imagine yawning, sleeping, dreaming, checking social media messages, snatching the blanket back, dreaming, sleepwalking, dreaming, and finally waking (or not) becoming the logistical mantra for a successful life. It sounds too good to be true.

The first science fiction novel by Mary Shelley, the concept of the theory of relativity by Albert Einstein, the structure of the Atom by Niels Bohr, the composition of the famous hit ‘Yesterday’ by Paul McCartney and The Beatles, the structure of the periodic table by Dmitri Mendeleev, Dr. Frederick Banting’s discovery of the use of insulin for diabetic patients, a few of Srinivas Ramanujan’s mathematical theories, as well as my theory of procrastination, all find their roots in vivid dreams. An argument can be made that a majority of these discoveries are scientific and educational in nature, and if these people decided to not doze off while working, we would have a lot less to study in our schools and colleges. Nevertheless, these discoveries are groundbreaking, to say the least. Take my theory of procrastination for instance. If I had not decided to sleep and dream aimlessly and endlessly, how would this theory ever have come into existence? In fact, I am willing to wager that the impact of the theory of procrastination has been on many more people than the impacts by Google, the Avengers movie franchise, and even sliced bread.

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It’s fair to assume that we all spend a third of our day sleeping, and therefore a third of our life asleep too (except the few spots when we endure ‘all-nighters’ to read comic books on exam nights, to watch our sports team take a beating in a different time zone, to transfer items from the refrigerator into our tummy, which we apparently term as a midnight snack as opposed to a midnight banquet, and even getting thrown out of bars). This is a significant portion of our lives, and studies show that the average person spends about a quarter of their sleep time dreaming. Two hours of dreaming a night? We must have hit that ten thousand hour mark many times over. Now I’m not sure how the eminent people sans one mentioned in the previous paragraph managed to discipline their minds enough to engage in meaningful, structured, and creative dreams. I, for some reason experience dreams that I cannot even begin to explain. They range from ‘shame shame puppy shame’, and falling from the sky (gravity has already been discovered so it’s pointless), to storylines changing faster than the speed of light, ‘pee-pee’ dreams and being on a sports team with pizza slices and muffins (I don’t know what this is even meant to signify, except that I need to stop gorging on them). Or maybe I just haven’t bothered to remember a dream that may have actually offered some guidance and enlightenment.

My point here is that we all have issues and challenges that we are in a constant tussle with. While these challenges exhaust us and put us to sleep, our unconscious mind continues to try and solve them well into the night. Based on several studies by experts, there are numerous areas that our dreams help us in. Here are some.

  1. We have emotional trials that we constantly deal with. While we may not be able to understand or relate our emotional duress to their causes during our conscious hours, our brains are highly capable of joining the dots and forming connections, without our annoying waking interference while we sleep. This allows us to find some answers and obtain emotional balance to a degree. We potentially have a chance of healing over time. We have a free therapist in our head and we don’t even need to be awake as she speaks.
  2. Dreaming helps us reflect on our actual lives on a daily basis. Our unconscious mind helps replay situations, our actions in those situations, and alternate courses of action that may have been apter under the circumstances. This offers perspective and learning for future situations. This is our automatic problem-solving kit.
  3. Often dreams can lead to premonitions of threats and other occurrences in our lives. It gets us battle-ready (or ready to flee).
  4. Creativity can be at its highest in our dreams. Pioneering discoveries and creations born in people’s dreams are a testimony that the deliberations by our mind as our body rests lead to revolutions. It’s probably happened to every single one of us as well. A business idea, an idea for a new advertising campaign, a movie theme, a poem, or even the idea to write about dreams may have occurred in a dream, without our conscious knowledge. So pay attention boys and girls, for your dreams may lead to solutions for first world problems like finding enough storage for the consequences of our compulsive shopping habits, fat burning desserts, self making beds, getting every single one of our connections to like our social media posts, phone charging trouser pockets, and even a spouse proof television remote.
  5. Dreams also act as a sorting mechanism for all the information we absorb during our waking hours. It would be highly improbable for us to retain all the information we encounter in our lives and our dreams help decide what to keep and what to discard.

Research continues to find more benefits of dreaming and if we care to pay attention to them and remember them, we may become mentally and emotionally healthier, and experience boundless creativity. There are several ways to remember our dreams and brain coach Jim Kwik recommends simple steps like making a conscious choice to remember our dreams, writing them down immediately when we wake up, keeping our eyes closed as we wake up and reflect on our dreams, tell ourselves daily that we will remember our dreams, and manage our sleep well to ensure a dreamy nightcap.

The benefits of paying attention to the small little stories in our head as we do what we love most are astounding. It truly is ‘lights out’.

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The Wandering Wondering Mind – Part 1

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Overthinking is a mental battle I have fought for as long as I can remember and no matter the decision arrived upon after this long drawn out struggle, there are always casualties. These casualties are usually ourselves and many a time people that are close to us. And by casualties I don’t mean being rushed through heavy traffic in an ambulance or even getting stuck in a critical care bed and having to deal with stories about family problems of all our visitors, but about the mental setback that this inexorable activity causes. A loss of peace of mind, lack of focus, loss of interest, irritability, inexplicable sadness, disturbed sleep patterns, extreme binging modes (or loss of appetite), and a general feeling of loss overpower us.

Whether it’s tough experiences from the past or a generally pessimistic attitude we may have developed, allowing our mind to constantly visit an occurrence, situation, or behavior, and analyze it over and over, grips our life with a sense of incompleteness and severe lack of clarity. We strive for answers, come up with many without any confidence in any, which leads us to favor the negative outcomes. And from experience, I can say that the turmoil that this causes in the mind is as unnerving as anything can be (Except when the Wi-Fi goes down because that has to be the epitome of deprivation and depression).

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Why did he behave in a peculiar manner the other day? Why does she always act aloof in every situation? Why was my research thesis rejected without an explanation? Why did Eddard Stark have to die in season 1 of Game of Thrones? Why do the Mumbai Indians make our blood pressure shoot through the roof during their consistently erratic seasons? What are companies looking for in job applicants? Why am I made to feel like an outcast? Why do the people I care about take me for granted and instead chase people that don’t really care about them? Why doesn’t she tell me what she thinks and feels openly and honestly? Why can’t people care more? Why do my plans always go bust? The ‘Why’, ‘What’, ‘Where’, ‘When’, ‘Who’ ‘Which’ and a gazillion other questions that plague our minds. Our mind is not built to handle unclear messages, unexpected circumstances, unanswered questions, and the mysteries surrounding relationships that we deem important. Sometimes my mind is so loud with uncertainties clanging away nightmarishly that I wish I could remove my mind from my head when needed, unlike an iPhone battery. If we think jail is a scary place, being trapped inside our own minds is hellish at best.

We can seek help from others, and the ones that truly care for us will certainly offer solutions with all earnestness, and good ones at that (Unless you ask your dog because then the solutions for everything would be to scratch your ear with your leg and rollover, which is a good way to lead life if you think about it). However, just like the relationship between any coach and student, the responsibility to believe and execute lies with the student. While most of us have external help, the real battle lies within, which we must face ourselves.

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While some mysteries in our lives may unravel quickly, some may plague us for a long time, and still, some others may never reveal themselves during the course of our lifetime. Here are some areas we need to think about, accept, and address to help understand some of these uncertainties.

Mirror mirror on the wall

We are an echo of our upbringing and the values that we grow up with are the values we look for in others. Now only if choosing friends and significant others was such a well thought out and transparent process. We form associations based on looks, a sense of humor, dancing skills, popularity, the ability to win hot dog eating contests and several other parameters that meet the eye in quick time. Even for those of us that take our time to get to know people better and are strictly selective in forging bonds, differences in one’s outlook towards life is likely to crop up in certain areas. We expect people to be who we perceive them as, which in many ways is a reflection of who we are. For instance, if we grew up in an environment where control was exerted and things were expected of us, then we tend to repeat this in other relationships as adults, expect from others and want to be in control. If we were accepted conditionally, then we will lay down conditions in accepting others. We seek relationships to fulfill and complete us because we have an unhealed child inside us and are often disappointed if others cannot meet our needs. Just because people are different from us does not make them wrong. We need to understand who we are inside and heal ourselves first. Only then will we stop to seek relationships to fill gaps in our lives and seek them instead for the true value they add to us.

Relationships can fail

This follows from the previous point. As much as we’d like to put the blame of failed relationships on circumstances or our counterparts, we must realize that relationships are also a reflection of who we are as much as the other person. We need to form a perspective in relationships because if we feel dejected by others, there is an equal chance that others feel dejected in us. Sometimes we misread people at the onset and feel betrayed when we see them change. Sometimes people change as they grow, while we are still stuck at the very same spot and may feel abandoned. As the cliché goes ‘change is the only constant’, and is also applicable to people. Parents experience this as well. They may feel that their children are not what they were while growing up. As much as their love is unconditional, their expectations from their children are not. Any deviation from the well-set our patterns as they grow hurts parents and leaves them with unexplained changes in behavior. However, we are all on our unique paths of finding our truth and the likelihood of us having the same vision as our parents and being on the exact same path at the same time is slim. Paths can be similar but not exactly the same. Without perspective, understanding, and empathy, it is difficult to see this difference. Once we do, our mind will be able to grasp this concept better.

 The need for reciprocation

The need for attention, to be wanted, loved, appreciated, and cared for are common human expectations. If we bestow this upon others, then we consider them not returning the favor to be absolute sacrilege. This puzzles us and we fail to understand why someone won’t respect our feelings by reciprocating. What exactly are we looking for? Do we have a set of parameters that this reciprocation must fit? People do love but in their own way. Yes, it would be nice for people to express what they feel openly and transparently in a globally recognizable manner. Love as they say is a global language and yet it’s expression can be very complex. Open communication is a challenge all around the world and only a few have the courage and willingness to participate in this exercise. Sometimes two people find a common ground to be understood and at times it’s a never-ending mystery due to the natural shortcomings in expression of one or both individuals.

Life is not our debtor

We make plans and more often than not they go awry. We can’t for the life of us understand why things always have to go wrong. Life doesn’t owe us anything and is meant to carry on its business as it deems fit. We need to adapt to situations and circumstances. To make plans and be prepared is very important, but to prepare our minds to the fact that our plans can and will fail many a time is of utmost significance.

Neither are people

Just because we feel people owe us due to our own concoctions in our minds does not make it a reality. Sometimes it’s a feeling of entitlement and at times we genuinely expect it because we do a lot for them. If people owe us money, sure we can find ways of extracting it should they resist. However, no matter how much good we do for someone, he or she does not owe us anything in return. Sometimes people don’t love back, just like the answer to some of our prayers is a resounding ‘no’. Someone may mean the world to us but for them, we may barely exist. That’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes and we need to accept that. Let’s understand that some things are beyond our control and not let our delusions create havoc in our minds because of them.

 Every man for himself

The thought that the human race is rapidly losing any semblance of brotherhood, chivalry, unity, and generally doing good in the world drives me nuts. Small acts frustrate me on a regular basis. Why can’t that cab driver observe the traffic rules? Why can’t that person respect the queue? If businesses keep other businesses alive, why does he think about only his profits? Why do they kill over a 20-rupee ticket at a toll booth? Why do they cheat and then shamelessly stare the law in the eye, knowing they cannot be touched? Why does she take advantage of his grave financial condition? My mind knows that the world has always been like this, but I expect better because we live under this veil of a civilized society. As bad as the middle ages were, people’s word counted for something (Except that of Cersei Lannister of course). Not today. If people find any unscrupulous means of getting ahead, they will resort to it. So I shouldn’t expect from others but only from myself to have an impact large enough to turn the tide.

What people think about me

This is amongst my favorites. I have had long conversations with friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers about their insecurities of being perceived in a bad light by others. Trying to please a bunch of people is exactly what that will cause a major deviation from our pristine personality and relegates us to confused, inconsistent, moody, and erratic individuals. Just when we think we have done everything right in everyone’s eyes, someone will express their displeasure. And if that does not happen, over time we will feel hollow from within. We will rack our brains and spend sleepless nights wondering what went wrong. The answer is we strayed away from who we really are. People that accept us for who we are, are the ones that should really matter. Everything else is just an illusion of an association.

These are some broad areas that I have spent years worrying about and I can fit most worrisome and frustrating thoughts into one of these categories. While I haven’t attained nirvana (not even close), I have recognized these problem areas and am now making a valiant attempt to stem the tide. Some of us prefer professional help, while others may want to start small with their own backing.

Stay tuned for some backyard practices to halt the wondering wanderer.

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Playfully Serious

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Being serious for prolonged periods has always been a difficult task for me. And I don’t mean that I take my work, relationships, passions, and other responsibilities lightly. I take them very seriously indeed. But by serious I mean I cannot hold a grim, businesslike, tense, depressed or unhappy demeanor for too long (If you smile too much or crack too many jokes in the corporate world you’re considered to be someone that is not serious about the job). My innate nature is to play the clown in most situations without undermining or disrespecting the situation or the people in it. However, I am not impervious to the discomfort caused by drastic situations and unsavory events. On the contrary, my emotional nature does allow events and people around to have their impact on me, both positive and negative (If I was playing Bruce Banner in the Avengers and Tony Stark poked me with a needle, I would have turned green, red, yellow, purple…). However, I consider myself to be a defective piece whereby I can’t mope around beyond a point in any situation.

All my life I have tried to come up with some response (which tends to be comical and carefree in nature) to adversity in its early stages itself. When someone tried to bully me as a child (which didn’t happen all that often), after I overcame the first few moments of fear, I would participate in the mayhem in self-defense and laugh at my own predicament much to the dismay of the perpetrators. During my school days, if I struggled in an examination, I would start humming and whistling to myself (occasionally even tell myself a joke) to help dissipate some of the stress. Of course, if the invigilator happened to cast her eyes on me at the time, I would look dead straight with a serious expression letting her know that the exam is a breeze and I’m just formulating the best response mentally. If I got bad grades, I would walk it off and begin to focus on the next opportunity (If I studied hard and didn’t do well then there wasn’t much else I could have done. If I didn’t prepare enough, then I couldn’t expect to do well. Either way, there was no point sulking). If I didn’t win gold in my athletic events, I told myself that someone was better than me on the day (Which was invariably true). If I get rejections from my job applications, I tell myself that the number of applications I make will always be one step ahead of the number of rejections I can get. If I miss a target at work, sure I feel bad (but maybe for a day) and then I convert the entire episode into a joke (or a limerick) and move on. Now that I think of it, I was probably a little nervous even during my wedding ceremony and innately playing the fool, asking for updated cricket scores while the sacred mantras were being chanted.

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And why just situations? People can get us down very quickly too (Only if we allow them to, but most of us cave in). Family members, friends, bosses, colleagues, the next door girl (who still doesn’t know you like her), the ticket collector on the train (during your ticketless travels), the guy who tripped you as you tried to take a selfie during your evening run, and strangely even the banking telemarketer rejecting a loan you didn’t apply for in the first place. For a long time, I let every unpleasant behavior towards me get on to my nerves and push me in a corner. It didn’t help resolve anything and only made me feel worse than I already did. So what do I do now? That’s right, take it with a pinch of salt and a sense of humor.

We will find every excuse to be angry, upset, dejected, irritated or just be grimly serious about every situation and person we deal with. Sure, things get exasperating, but the sooner we realize that unpleasant moments make up our lives just as much as joyous ones, the better equipped we will be to deal with them. Whether we are happy or unhappy about a situation, the fact that it has occurred will remain unchanged and our grim attitude is only going to make us feel worse, not improve the situation. On the contrary, assuming responsibility and lightening the mood in the darkest of moments has helped me rebound faster, stronger, and cleared all the clutter in my mind.

The Joker of Gotham was right.

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So if you were to listen to me, I’d say don’t take yourselves, others, and situations too seriously. If we humor ourselves and laugh (not hysterically, which might be a sign of having gone cuckoo) at our predicaments, we will innately create a belief in our minds and hearts that our problems have not gotten the better of us. We will face them with conviction and fortitude. We all have it in us to realize that the ability to humor ourselves lies within us. We need that humor to face life’s challenges. We cannot tackle the visible until we tackle the invisible. To bear fruit (visible), we must nurture the roots (invisible).

Yes, things will be painful, yes people will be hurtful, yes we will find ourselves undermined and hopelessly outrivaled by various situations, but it’s really up to us to put ourselves in the best mental and emotional condition to tackle life’s gristle.

If life seems jolly rotten,
There’s something you’ve forgotten!
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing,
When you’re feeling in the dumps,
Don’t be silly chumps,
Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing!

Always looks on the bright side of life…. phee phoo phee phoo phoo phoo phee phoo (whistling)

  • Bruce Cockburn

‘I’ Specialists

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It’s amazing how often I come across people that seem to have all the answers. More accurately, they seem to think they have the answers to any question or situation they encounter, ranging from how to cook Baked Alaska (or even a Heston Blumenthal masterpiece) and which player would be the perfect signing for the New York Yankees (and also wonder why they never get called to serve as the rightful general manager), to what the next big financial investment should be (until it crashes, because the fund manager didn’t follow their strategy) and how to solve traffic problems in large metros (and yet they seem to be stuck in it all the time). My father calls them ‘I’ specialists.

More worryingly, how often do we fall prey to this ‘I know it all’ attitude? How often do we consciously and willingly adopt this mannerism? Whether we’re sitting in a conference and listening to experts in our fields (we seethe quietly at having to sit in the audience while someone with seemingly less knowledge speaks on the dais at that conference), helping our daughter with her studies (we truly believe that the people that designed the education system at her school didn’t have an education themselves), working on a team project at college (we emphasize that if our plan was accepted for the college presentation, our team would soar to success, and if it didn’t, despite our plan being implemented, it wasn’t done in all earnestness by our teammates), discussing maters on anything from movies to politics (we are certain that if we wore the director’s cap, we would produce Oscar winning movies every year, and also have the perfect response to all political matters, even if it was devoid of factual information or reason), and even in our daily demeanor (from how to arrange the crockery to how to deal with the housemaid), we tend to close our minds to suggestions because we feel we are equipped with more knowledge than others, are smarter, and therefore know best.

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A know-it-all is a person who knows everything except for how annoying he is – Demetri Martin

We feel we know better than our kids, our parents, our spouse, our friends, our co-workers, our teachers, doctors, the prime minister, the national cricket selection committee, and even our building security personnel (about who is going in and out of the building daily).

Yet, somehow the bitter turn of events along the way seem to baffle us. Despite, having all the possible knowledge (at least the illusion of knowledge that we consider to be Gospel) at our disposal, we fall short on various fronts. Some of us barely notice and for those of us that do, we shirk it off as shortcomings of our environment and the people in it.

Those who think they know it all have no way of finding out they don’t – Leo Buscaglia

If indeed we did know it all, why is that we need external courses to improve our professional skills to meet the evolving nature of our work and industry? Why are we able to convert only a small percentage of prospects into clients? Why do we not always score well in examinations (Let alone obtaining a perfect score)? Why do we not win every sports fantasy tournament we participate in considering we have the best team selection process? Why do we need Google maps to help us get to locations in a city where we have lived our entire lives? How come we don’t know what our father does for a living? Why is it that we fail to understand our children (Although we tend to believe it’s them that fails to understand us, where in reality the failure to understand is likely on both sides)? Why do we often annoy or upset people (this isn’t our intention now, is it?) around us if we always know the right things to say? How come we don’t curtail our alcohol and cigarette consumption despite the health warnings on the packaging (What do the manufacturers know?)? Why is that our spouse wears a quiet forlorn look if we really know how to keep him/her happy?

We feel like scholars on every subject, but if we were to put ourselves to the test we would fail tasks we perform daily. Do we really know the correct way to hang toilet paper in the bathroom? Or how to brush our teeth with the right technique? Or how to change the gears in our car in the most optimum manner? Or even that Santa Claus isn’t real (If you’re under ten years of age, you didn’t read this here)? Do we even know ourselves well? We may be aware of trivial things like our choices in food, entertainment, technology, travel and so on, but do we understand ourselves well enough to know what drives our happiness? Do we truly understand how to use our gifts to fulfill our destiny and help others around us?

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In our quest to massage our egos, and prove ourselves to be one up over others, we close ourselves to new information and lose out on the opportunity to actually assimilate knowledge. I believe we can learn from anyone and any situation. We must learn to be humble students our entire lives. It may be a clichéd statement, but it was born out of necessity, wasn’t it? An open mind leads to knowledge, knowledge leads to wisdom, and wisdom leads to common sense, benevolence, fulfillment, and happiness. Kaching!!

Inanimate Companions

How many people around us actually listen to us when we speak to them? How many are actively engaged in a conversation with us when we are divulging secrets, talking of our pain, reminiscing a moment of brilliance, or even just rambling on about life and its unpredictability? More, importantly, how often do we truly listen when our family, friends, colleagues, associates, clients, and Rahul Gandhi seek our undivided attention? We are all guilty of listening for the ‘sake’ of listening with little interest in understanding what is being said and empathising with the speaker (Unless of course they are talking about how cool we are and all the incredible things we’ve done in life, including driving at high speeds like a maniac, posting a selfie every three minutes, crossing the railway tracks with the train just meters away, partying fourteen days a week, and ridiculing the next door boy for his interest in sewing).

And there are people, whose presence just seems to offer comfort without the need for any interaction (Unless they change the TV channel against your will). Just knowing that they are there in our room, and our lives provide assurance and enhance our confidence to stand up and face life. While I’m blessed to have a few such people in my life, not everyone is lucky enough to have this sort of mental and emotional backing. However, there are phases in life where even our pillars of support have a breakdown or move away for various reasons (Hopefully, not because you changed the TV channel back to the one you were watching originally). While it is imperative that we offer our support in their times of trials and tribulations (except when they are frustrated over Bigg Boss results), we too need to be in the right mental space to do so.

I was the first child in my generation, across my extended family, and by a few years at that. I grew up in a joint family and while I had my parents, uncles, aunts, a grandmother, and a lot of house help (no Indian family is complete without a battalion of helpers) around all the time, I spent a fair amount of time on my own. Despite their constant support and affection, I always sensed an emotional gap, leading to insecurity, loneliness, and a feeling of detachment. This is when I invested a lot of my emotions into my toys, which comprised of toy vehicles at a very young age, and progressed onto action figures over time. Today, I am a diehard pop culture and action figure aficionado, with hundreds in my collection (And for the mockers, these aren’t just toys, but a revolution for past, present, and future generations. Look around you, there are only billions of you, but millions of us). A large number of my emotions were invested in sports, my other passion.

Cricket

He-Man was my first superhero, followed by the G.I. Joes, Sachin Tendulkar, a host of other athletes (including the finger-exercising Vishwanathan Anand), the Punisher (the anti-hero married to guns, my version of ‘Gun-pati’) the X-Men, and the list continues to grow even today. As a young boy, I used to sleep with my ‘Masters of the Universe’ figures to ward off any evil lurking around the room (Which, invariably turned out to be the shadows of my other action figures on the wall). As an adolescent, I used to pick up my cricket bat and shadow practice my batting in order to lower my anxiety before an examination (I ended up scoring more imaginary runs than marks the next day). As a teenager, I spent time reposing my action figures, which added cheer to my day after a squabble with my girlfriend (I couldn’t take a flight from the USA to India to patch things up every few days unless she was willing to fly me, first class). After college, as a young twenty-three-year-old, I spent time frequenting comic book and pop culture stores in New York City to help me fight desolation caused by joblessness (And also tell myself that I had no time to apply for jobs, when I could be busy walking the streets, having fun). During my days at an investment bank, I always had sports scores refreshing in the browser in the background, telling me that if the Indian cricket team and the Yankees could win, I could too, in my race against time to meet challenging deadlines (While mocking my Pakistani colleague, even if India had just defeated England). Finding my way back into India (this was extremely hard in many aspects) in my late twenties, after almost a decade abroad, was made easier by the various 6 and 12 inch characters staring back at me from their glass houses in my bedroom, offering daily encouragement (With their swords and guns trained on me, threatening to attack if I decided to call it quits). Even today, a frustrating and demoralising day at work, or in a personal setting can be tempered by watching short video reviews of the latest Hot Toys releases and sports highlights for a few minutes (Watching any more than a few minutes of these at work would likely take me back to my days of job applications).

AF

Today, I’m fortunate to have the presence of my parents and extended family. I’ve been married for nine years to a very supportive, loving and caring woman. I’m a father to a beautiful three-year-old brat. I have fantastic friends who have been along the ride with me for over two and three decades (How many people can claim to still be friends with people that they shared diapers with? Mind you I always had first use, before there was poop in them). And it’s these people that make life worth living and form our support system. However, we all have our bad phases, and the best efforts of our parents, family, and friends fall short at times. They care and always mean well, but if results always followed intentions, the world would have far lesser problems (Assuming the intent isn’t to cheat, hurt, damage, or just simply blow the world up).

This is when we need to help ourselves. And we can always use a little extra succor to keep us moving forward. We may have a great mindset, strong will, commitment to our cause, a positive attitude, and high resilience, but we need reinforcement every now and again. For me, a few moments of playing or watching sport, or spending time around my action figure collection can prepare me for days of rough weather. For you, music may work wonders, or confiding in your pet dog could make the blues go away (If your neighbors saw this, it will make them go away as well). You may feel better by playing ‘who blinks first’ with your cat, or ‘drown’ your sorrows away while watering your plants (Unless you own Attenborough’s pitcher plant, in which case it may alleviate all your problems by having you for lunch). Testing the contents of your wardrobe could put a smile on your face (unless you suddenly realize that most of them have shrunk because you invade McDonald’s frequently), or your library could give you one reason to rejoice amongst the gloom surrounding you.

Sports gear, toys, pets, plants, books, music, stationery, furniture, movies, shoes, underwear, and a million other things; we all have something (or non-human beings) that we have an attachment towards and ones that we hold dear to our heart. And while we seek solace amongst our family and friends, we must realize that there are some paths that we need to walk alone. But there is a cheat code to this ‘alone’ business, and it is all the things that we have always cherished subconsciously, for most, if not all of our lives. The key is to recognize them and feed them into our conscious mind, to help us through all those rainy days (Or just use an umbrella)

When I wake up, my gaze falls on my wife and daughter first, and then I spend a moment acknowledging all my little warriors that have stood the test of time with me, always present, steadfast in their commitment towards me.

‘By the power of Grayskull,’ you can get through anything.

He Man

Level Up!! Welcome to the stage of life

You love video games. Come on, admit it. No matter what your age, or cultural background, or how bad your fine motor skills are, you love video games. Even if you’re a dinosaur, you know you will ask your 5-year child or grandchild, who is just moving on from the intermediate level to the expert level of handling technological devices, to teach you how to use a smartphone, just so that you can begin playing that game you saw someone on the metro play.

Just like everything in life, video games have evolved in leaps and bounds. Most of us today are exposed to ultra-realistic graphics, to the extent that it becomes difficult to tell the difference between video game characters and actors and sports personalities on screen. I remember playing NBA2K a few years ago when my uncle walked into the room and asked “Who is playing today?”, and I replied “Your 15-year old son and I. The loser has to have his nose and tongue pierced. I’m 20 points up”.

The first video game of ‘noughts and crosses’ by Nimrod in the early fifties to the latest obsessions like NBA, FIFA, God of War, Call of Duty, Spider-Man, and my favourite MLB: The Show, among many others (No, Fruit Ninja isn’t a game. It’s just a way for you to put as many smudge marks on your phone screen in as many places as possible), have kept our competitive spirits on the rise while keeping us thoroughly entertained. We can continue playing through the weekend, even the whole week without a bathroom break because we’re engaged, our adrenaline is high, and we want to come out on top and won’t settle for anything less. As we say, ‘we’re zoned in, we’re in the game’.

And then reality strikes, life arrives, and our heroic ‘never say die’ versions start feeling weak, despondent, and willingly lay down our arms at the first sight of adversity. Worse still, we resort to inaction because we anticipate that what might happen next will be an event that will be too difficult to deal with. We fear the unknown, perhaps because we almost always believe it may not be good.

We have all the possible excuses to remain stagnant. “I can’t resign from my miserable job, because the next one could be even worse”. “I can’t ask this question in class, what will others think?” “I won’t do well in my presentation as I suck at public speaking, I may as well not prepare” “I’ve been told I’m a good dancer, but what if I freeze on stage?” “I can’t marry him, the in-laws are part of the package (Okay, I admit this fear is valid)”. “What if the police find out? (Don’t get any ideas, I’m just making sure you’re paying attention here)” “What if I sound childish?” “What if I hurt someone?” and the list goes on.

Do we ever hear ourselves saying “Damn, level 6 on Mario is likely to be really hard, let me just play level 5 for a year or two”? or “I’ve been stabbed 57 times at this very stage of Assassin’s Creed, I’m done playing this game”? or even “This level is so comfortable and easy, let me just stay here forever” NO. We come back with a steelier resolve and intend to improve our performance with every single attempt. And we do this till we achieve that goal, and celebrate in euphoric fashion, compelling the old neighbor lady to think that someone in our house is getting assaulted (See, now you don’t care if the police find out).

For those that have seen the movie ‘3 Idiots’, Dr. Sahastrabuddhe says “Life is a race”. I believe life is a game and the only race run in it, is between you reaching your true potential and the time you have on this planet (or the moon, or Mars, or elsewhere if you’re young enough to see our species spread our presence) to achieve this.

We take absolute joy in playing video games and importantly no one has to ever convince us to do so, at any time of the day or night. We are ready to be entertained but also bring our ‘game face’ (pun intended) to the occasion. We play with belief, we fail at various levels but dust ourselves off and have a go again, but critically, we enjoy every moment of frustration and excellence alike. We were not born to excel at any of these games, but yet out of sheer belief, commitment, perseverance, and practice, we succeed and move on to higher levels. We tell ourselves it’s just a game and yet we play it like our lives depend on it.

Bring this joyous and spirited attitude to your lives and treat it like a game, where your goal is to master one level and move onto the next. Once you activate this mindset, it won’t matter what anyone thinks, or if you’re good at public events, or the consequences of taking action, oh that’s right, the in-laws are still a problem (but you’ll figure it out, won’t you?).

I’ve heard Robin Sharma say that you need to make your ‘I can’ greater than your ‘IQ’. Your attitude is greater than your ability. As long as you bring your strong positive attitude and mindset to every single day of your life, you will lose the fear of failure. And that is a key element to success.

So, I’ve decided to shed my fear of sharing my writing for others to see and just try to do it one level at a time. Welcome to the next level!!

Level Up 2