The Escape Artist

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With our bodies getting bigger and our apartments getting smaller, space constraints have to be one of the primary first world problems. We literally have to shove clothes into our closet and seal them with tape so that they don’t invade each other’s space or the space on the floor in front of the closet. When we open our refrigerators, it tends to attack us with anything in the frontline: eggs, soda cans, half-eaten apples, 3-month old milk, phone chargers (so that’s where I left mine), the annoying neighbor’s severed arm, and if we’re lucky, perhaps even an assortment of pastries. Washing machines occupy the tile right next to the one under the shower spout so that we may get a bit of a massage while we shower as it tumble-dries. We don’t even have to hit the floor as we can tiptoe over furniture right from one end of our apartment to the main door. The bicycle now shares our bed. The television is attached facedown to the ceiling and we have to keep glancing upward to follow the plot. The writing desk serves as the dining table. And the children live with the neighbor (the other neighbor who’s hand we didn’t sever).

This does not even begin to define all the other clutter that exists in our homes. We won’t stop buying more but will tear our hair out at the lack of space and whine about how unfair life is because the new 12-seater sofa set we bought does not fit in our 400 square foot apartment. And while we fret over these ‘diabolical’ issues, the real threat lurks under our feet. Under our rugs and carpets.

Isn’t that where we shove all our actual problems? In fact, we go a step further. We store our materialistic objects for current use or use at a future time but we dismiss our problems and pretend that they have gone away for good, or never existed in the first place. That’s like a passenger in a crowded Mumbai train pretending that the foot of another man does not exist on the floorboard and places his own over it. This single move alone can worsen the plight of all 130 people in that compartment. As a toddler I played hide and seek by hiding in plain sight with my eyes shut, thinking that if I can’t see the world, the world can’t see me. My family was kind enough to humor me. Life isn’t.

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Sure there are plenty of reasons for us to avoid problems.

  • We have to deal with unpleasant situations (especially if we upset our cable TV operator or internet service provider)
  • We have to admit a mistake (or two dozen)
  • We have to take responsibility (I never signed up for this)
  • We have to cease being in denial (oh it’s such a cozy place to be in)
  • We need a reason to continue drinking and smoking regularly (avoiding problems is a full-time job and requires plenty of hard work)
  • We also need excuses to call and text our friends about frivolous topics that allow us to live in fantasyland (with billion-dollar startups popping up like daisies, unicorns are now a reality)
  • And we get to become close friends with tomorrow (a mutually convenient long-distance relationship)

While we bide our time, these problems start flowing out from under the carpet and into our lives like a behemoth with the tantrums of a spoilsport. We may feel safer in delaying our intervention in a situation, but either way, at whatever point in time, that situation is eventually inevitable (Thanos anyone?). The term ‘nip it in the bud’ is something I urge everyone to take very seriously when dealing with problems and adversities. Whether it is a strained relationship, a toxic work environment, stressed finances, unhealthy lifestyle habits, fixing your vehicle’s tail light, or even kicking that stalking creep in the nuts, these problems are here to stay until addressed. And in my humble experience, these problems are like rotting teeth, they just go from bad to worse if ignored (and from my perspective dentists are easily amongst the scariest people on earth).

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We may try and keep ourselves busy being busy in the hope that when we look up, our problems will either have gone away or be resolved. But are we really fooling ourselves? Is our subconscious not aware of the strain with our coworker as we chug our fourth beer at the bar? Is our subconscious not aware of the bad blood that is beginning to creep into our relationship with the spouse as we distract ourselves binge-watching series after series? Is our mind not worried about the ballooning debt that has to be paid, while we continue to rack up credit card bills to keep us materialistically happy? Are we unaware of our rising cholesterol as we submerge ourselves in food delivery applications? Our mind is aware of all our issues every second of our lives whether we acknowledge it or not. And this will consume us from within, slowly but surely. There is no point jumping from one roller coaster ride to another to keep our spirits high because the park will close at a certain hour and we will be left with silence and darkness.

By focusing on accepting our problems and being solution-oriented, we will realize that problems don’t necessarily get the better of us. This, in turn, will provide the experience to deal with future problems with greater confidence and a sense of control. Sure we all need to let out some steam, but that is to help us deal with our problems better, not run away from them.

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Brainwaves To Heaven And Brain Cramps To Hell

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We spend a considerable amount of time daydreaming (I know I do) about fantastic possibilities in our lifetime Owning a mansion by the sea. Becoming the chairman of our favorite organization. Winning that Olympic gold at a track event (even if we have never walked more than three hundred meters in our entire lifetime). Marrying a supermodel (Who is preferably even the daughter of a multi-billionaire). Flying to places in a private jet. Sporting the perfect body. And even slapping the boss for her incompetence.

We spend another significant portion of our life worrying about circumstances that don’t deserve our attention. Getting fired from our job even though we are still in the first year of college. Getting hit by a train outside our home, even though we live on a farm. What our future in-laws will think about us (find a nice boy first). Saying goodbye to our youth once we have kids. Not becoming a millionaire (worrying won’t help you get there). Ending up on a wheelchair (relax, you only tripped and broke your nose). Not managing to get enough followers on Instagram. Rahul Gandhi becoming the Indian prime minister. And even what we’re going to wear at our brother’s wedding, which is still fifteen months away. And if we have time in between these two activities, we get some work done and pay attention to our life as it stands in the present.

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A lot of you may have seen (or at least heard of) the movie ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. For those of you that haven’t seen it, I suggest you stop working on that sales pitch, or college assignment, and even hand your infant to the neighbor for a couple of hours, and watch this movie instead. There are several reasons to watch this movie, but I’ll give you just one: Meryl Streep. Enough said!!

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This movie released in 2006, while I was still in the USA. A few of us friends decided to catch a different movie (I can’t remember the name now) at the theaters, bought tickets and when we entered the screening hall, almost every seat seemed to have been taken, and the few available ones couldn’t be traced in the dark (We got there 5 minutes after show time). ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ was playing in the adjacent screening hall, and we decided to watch that instead (Since we had already paid for movie tickets and there was no way we were going to let that money go to waste). None of us expected much from the movie, but a few minutes into the movie I was completely dialed in. Not only did I find it thoroughly entertaining, but the simple message it gave me has stayed with me till date.

Anne Hathaway, a budding journalist decides to take up an internship at a fashion magazine, run by Meryl Streep, and soon realizes that this immaculately dressed lady is indeed the devil in disguise. She is hard to please, is a perfectionist and has the same expectation of others, seems to take pleasure in the discomfort of others, is almost never satisfied by the effort others put in, is unreasonable in practically every one of her demands, is a real taskmaster, and is dismissive of anyone’s feelings and opinions. Poor Anne struggles and pities herself (and complains and cries and shows open contempt), but then midway through the movie decides to raise her own bar and prove her mettle. She eventually quits her role at the fashion magazine, but not because she was bullied or beaten to the ground, but for reasons that aligned with her principles (And after completely impressing Ms. Devil with her hard work, dedication, sincerity, and fighting spirit).

The following year, I had a similar experience at my workplace with tough working conditions and a tougher boss. I went through the same ebbs initially (literally cowering at my desk), but then this movie (believe it or not) amongst supportive friends, my action figures, and sports, kept me going, and I managed to excel at work and silence my critics (including myself). I started out with ‘boo-hoo’ and ended up with ‘yoo-hoo’, more mature, robust, and with a sense of accomplishment.

Just like Anne, I had walked into this role daydreaming about the fancy stuff I would achieve and worrying about the problems I was likely to encounter, based on my preconceived notions. However, none of what and how I had anticipated actually happened. I did have significant highs and lows, but ones that were very different from what I had initially imagined. And I only managed to pull myself out of this rut, when I started living in the present and addressing the real world scenario as it occurred.

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Mind you, both Ms. Streep and my boss worked hard and performed at a level that was of a very high standard and expected others to follow suit. They wanted their team to excel just as well and raise the organization to greater heights. Their work ethic is commendable, and with a little empathy, they could be great leaders. I’ve also encountered bosses that have wanted me to work hard, only so that they could rest on my laurels (And also take time out during work hours to go to the parlor). It is important to recognize people that put us through adversity for our own good and that of something bigger than us (like our team, organization, or community), from the ones that are looking to purely drive us to death while they reap the rewards.

I believe, our innate nature to daydream and worry is a combination of our genetics, upbringing, the exposure we have had to good and bad experiences and the impact it has had on our minds, the guidelines by which we have lived our life thus far, our belief system (which invariably gives rise to preconceived notions), and our hope and fears. The one thing we love doing as humans (besides playing the fool and shopping incessantly for unnecessary products) is imagining potential outcomes beforehand in any situation. The type of person we are (positive or negative, or just outright deranged) will decide whether that perceived outcome is a happy or frightful one.

Whether we’re daydreaming or worrying, the negative impacts of both are likely to be the same if that’s all we do, without addressing situations in the real world. We become like ‘deer in the headlights’ in our minds, before an event even occurs. In fact, studies show that 85 percent of what we worry about never happens. On the contrary, the stress generated leads to problems like a shrinking brain mass, lower IQ, heart diseases, aging, as well as problems in relationships. Similarly daydreaming and not acting is like being on a constant high (where we lounge around, smile and giggle at anything and everything), without testing the possibility of those dreams turning into reality.

It is important to dream because it gives birth to creativity and endless possibilities. It is also important to foresee pitfalls and be prepared mentally. However, it is more important to live in the present, deal with life’s real problems with dignity, grace, and determination, and truly understand our reasons for doing so. Just like we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (unless it’s a Punisher comic because then it’s bound to be awesome), we should avoid judging people and the situations that follow based on preconceived notions and past experiences. They could be the devil in Armani or an angel in rags.

And eventually, let’s not forget the biggest mischief monger: our mind. Irrespective of our situation and the people around us that create it, our mind decides how we perceive it and act. Depending on how we train our mind, an angel may decide to be our companion or the devil may come out to play.

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Jigsaw Jubilation

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Life gives me puzzles, not problems – Quincy Jones

I’m not certain if Mr. Jones was the first to say these words (just like we can’t be sure of several other quotes), but this Grammy legend certainly combined this belief along with his talents to bring music and joy to millions.

I’ve already taken a swing at problems and pain and how we tend to change course or stop dead in our tracks at the first sight of these party poopers. I believe that we create most of our problems in our minds, and don’t give ourselves any chance of dealing with them in reality. That girl is out of my league (Because she has a great smile and I have no teeth). I will never pass my driving test (Despite this being my first attempt, with no history of failure). My prospect is not going to buy this product (Because he looks stern and closed minded). My spouse won’t understand (Because there is no record of understanding spouses in the history of mankind). My boss is likely to be a real handful (Even though it’s only the first day at a new job). I will fail my college examination (Because I didn’t get a chance to revise for the fourteenth time this morning). I will drown in the bathtub if I fill it completely (Because I’m only a little taller than Tyrion Lannister). And you can all add your own examples here to make this the longest list in the world.

Some of these problems are not even ours to bear and don’t impact our lives directly, but we cringe at the outcome already forming in our head (For instance, if the opponent of our favorite tennis player is Roger Federer, we consider the match lost. If a particular political party wins the elections, we consider our country doomed, like the previous one was Godsend. Or, we even fear that Priyanka Chopra may not get along with her mother in law).

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While I don’t always confer the designation of puzzles to all my problems, I have dealt with several challenges in my life by treating them likes games or sports. During my days at an investment bank, I had to put in long hours, which comprised of tough tasks, and a race against time. Now I would come to my office in the morning of a 14-hour work day, and feel like I had a Herculean task ahead of me, and find my shoulders sagging a bit. I am a huge sports fan (if you didn’t already know that) and used sport to keep my drive up. I broke up my 14 hours into a game of basketball or football, depending on my mood for either tackles and brute force or dunks and fast breaks. The first hour was pregame warm-ups. The next twelve hours were broken into fours quarters of play (with a short lunch break at half time), and the last hour as the postgame presentation. My work was my opponent, and being a competitive person, I now managed to convert fear into excitement and determination to win the game. I would plan all along and see where I stood at the end of each period of play, and if I needed to re-strategize. Not only did I make work more interesting for myself, but in the quest to win, I also put in good performances (Plus I would give myself an interview at the end of each day and revel in my achievements…:)).

I have a degenerating spine and am in regular discomfort because of it. I have tried various forms of treatment, physiotherapy, and other fitness exercises for close to two decades now. While I have seen favorable results, none of them have been permanent. And when I get spasms (every 12 to 18 months), I could be bedridden for a good part of a month. This puts a break on all my activities and also negates a lot of work I’ve put in towards my fitness. Rather than get disheartened, I try new techniques and exercises (under the guidance of a therapist/doctor of course) to see how I can finally beat this ailment (Being a cricket fanatic, this is my Indian tour down under, the final frontier). I even talk to my back at times to see if I can solve a thing or two and have that eureka moment where I have found the optimal solution. And what’s more, I make jokes on my back and allow my friends and cousins to do so as well, to always keep the humor and fighting spirit alive. I am India’s Leaning Tower of Pisa (With a tilted body during my spasms).

Thick waistlines and slim bank accounts, daily goals we can’t surmount

Irritable spouses and disobedient kids, flaring tempers that don’t have a lid

Long working hours and short stacks of cash, balding heads, and an uneven mustache

Many words of disappointment but few of appreciation, failing economies and warring nations

More cars and fewer roads, diminishing strength and heavy loads

Crowded trains we cannot board, great desires that we can’t afford

Sour grapes and no wine, big dreams but no spine

– Harsh Chandriani

So go ahead and ask that girl out, and not worry about the outcome. What’s the worst that can happen? She will slap you? So what? It’s about your attitude and how you view this situation. Don’t think she assaulted you, but instead cared enough to touch your face (That’s a positive thing).

The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life – Erno Rubik

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Whether it’s challenges at work, health problems, relationship roadblocks (both personal and professional), financial difficulties, or a plethora of daily inconveniences, we tend to get bogged down by them. We rely on negative past experiences to predict future outcomes. I have come to terms with the fact that life will always throw curveballs at us no matter what, so it’s best to have a little fun and adventure while we’re tackling them. I have made a conscious effort to look at my problems as puzzles (games and sports to be more specific), and deal with them with a pinch of salt and a sense of humour.

Let’s find our own jigsaw fixations, and deal with our problems in a manner that we find fun, quest oriented, and intriguing. On life’s rainy days, while we try and shield our heads, let’s jump into the puddles every now and again.

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