Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Your friends are like your car’s tires!

Recently a friend posed an interesting question: How do you identify your true friends from the numerous people you consider as friends? She went on to answer her question by saying that true friends are those who stand by you in your difficult times. She shared some examples of her own friends who had supported her in moments of tremendous stress and difficulty, sometimes sacrificing their own comfort and convenience to do so. She further said that the people with whom you have parties and share good times are not necessarily your true friends.

Most people would agree with my friend's observations without any hesitation. We do indeed need friends to support us in our bad times. I certainly value every one of those people who stood by me during the rough times of my life. These are the people I trust the most and I am extremely grateful for their integrity and the loyalty that they have shown me.

However, is it wise to completely discount the people who were there with us during the good times? There is a colloquial expression for a person who is there with you only during your good times. We call them 'fair-weather friends'. These are the people who are only present when things are going well, but disappear or are less available when challenges arise. The implication is that they are unreliable and do not deserve to be called our friends.

I agree that we should not rely on 'fair-weather friends' to provide us with necessary support and assistance during 'foul-weather' conditions. Doing so would be sheer naivety. However, does that mean that 'fair-weather friends' are useless? Not necessarily. While we may not turn to them for support during difficult times, they often provide us with useful companionship and levity in moments of joy and contentment. We may or may not decide to call them "our true friends," but they still do enrich our lives by providing us with many memorable positive experiences in life.

Friends are like our car tires. They both provide support and help us move forward through our life's journeys. And there are many types of tires as there are many types of friends. All of them have their own unique roles to play. For example, there are Summer tires - let's use them as a metaphor for fair-weather friends - which are primarily designed for high-performance vehicles and provide optimized dry and wet performance levels in a temperate environment. Rather than being useless, these tires serve the great purpose of giving us a wonderful ride and experience on warm and sunny days.

Then we have the Winter tires - the metaphor for our dependable foul-weather friends. We depend on these tires to smoothly traverse through the slippery and icy road conditions of the Winter. While the Winter tires work great in snowy and icy conditions, they are not ideal for the Summer months. When used in the Summer, they tend to wear out faster, reduce fuel efficiency, and make your car less responsive and grippy, especially at high speeds. In other words, these tires just don't provide the same joyous experience as the Summer tires do during the metaphorical 'sunny times' of our lives.

So, we do need both fair- and foul-weather friends in our lives. Some people - for example, those high on the extraversion personality dimension - make for excellent company during the good times, while others - for example, those high on the agreeableness and conscientiousness personality dimensions - make for highly dependable friends during bad times.

We may wish that all our friends were like all-season tires, that supposedly provide the best of both worlds - reliable performance in all weather conditions and great comfort. However, any tire expert will tell you that all-season tires are more of a compromise than an ideal solution for varying driving conditions. The same goes for our friends too. Our all-weather friends may stay with us through thick and thin, but what they offer may not be optimal in all situations. And that may not be because of their lack of loyalty or commitment. Instead, they may simply lack the unique capabilities and temperament that made somebody else a perfect fit for a certain life-situation.

In conclusion, true friendship goes beyond being there during our difficulties. We need both fair-weather and foul-weather friends. They both have important roles to play in our lives. Rather than looking down upon our fair-weather friends, let us appreciate them for magnifying the joyous experiences of our life. Needless to say, let us also thank our foul-weather friends for being a pillar of strength and support during our storms. Both of them enrich our lives in their own unique ways.

Photo credit: Clem Onojeghuo @Unsplash.com

Thursday, February 16, 2023



Always remember
You never compete against others.
You always compete against
Your own self-created limits.

You compete against
Your procrastination,
Your distractions,
Your hesitations.

You are your restrictor,
Your own greatest enemy,
But also your defender.
So defend!

Defend your dreams.
Defend your focus.
Defend your time.
Defend your energy.

Defend against your doubts,
Against your temptations,
Against your inertia,
Against your decline.

Defend your time,
Do not kill time.
Make your time alive,
That's when you shine.

Your competition is you.
Find the strength to break through.
Fight the good fight,
And defend the fire within you.

Photo credit: Henry Hustava at Unsplash.com

Saturday, February 11, 2023

My Critique on Charles Bukowski's poem, "so you want to be a writer?"

Yesterday I shared Charles Bukowski's poem "so you want to be a writer?" on my Facebook timeline, and many of you liked it. I shared it because it is a beautiful poem. But I must also add that I do not agree with all the thoughts expressed in that poem. In this short essay, I provide my reflections on the poem. It is partly a critique and partly an appreciation of the poem. Hope you enjoy it!

Charles Bukowski is known for his dark, straightforward writing, and this poem is no exception. But let me start with the bright side of the poem. The poem wonderfully conveys some of my experiences as a writer as well. I am no big writer, but even a lesser mortal like me has experienced times when writing was an absolutely joyous experience. These were the times when I seemed to be in a zone; the words, sentences, paragraphs, and even entire monographs flowed without much effort. Bukowski describes this experience in the last few lines of his poem:
"...you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it..."

These lines capture the sheer beauty of writing. When I have been in a similar state, writing has felt completely effortless. Time flies by without me noticing it. It is a truly wonderful experience; you almost feel like you have been "chosen" by Maa Saraswati Herself to communicate certain ideas to the world. It is simultaneously a humbling and rewarding experience, because you know your capacities as a writer are extremely limited compared to the effortlessness with which the ideas and words flowed out through you. But then such experiences are few and far between, not just for the relatively low-level writers like me, but for the greats as well. Most of the time, writing involves a tremendous amount of effort.

Most of the time
"it doesn't come bursting out of you."

Most of the time, you do
"...have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words..."

Most of the time, you do
"...have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again..."

Most of the time, writing is
"...hard work just (even) thinking about doing it..."

What do you do when you experience such challenges? Bukowski provocatively answers this question several times in his poem: "don't do it."

Bukowski says,
"...don't do it
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed..."

It is difficult to disagree with Bukowski here. He is essentially emphasizing that it is more important to have intrinsic motivation for writing rather than extrinsic motivations such as money or fame. There is a humongous body of literature supporting the benefits of intrinsic motivation.  So, Bukowski is not wrong here.

But at the same time, I cannot agree with his idea of not doing it if you are having difficulty. Bukowski seems to have a rationale for why one should stop trying:
"don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that."

In other words, Bukowski seems to be concerned about the quality of writing that is out there in the world, and he likely thinks it is because far too many people are writing who simply lack the aptitude to do it well. This is akin to many mediocre musicians trying to make it in the music industry, or many terrible actors trying their luck in films. You can call it elitist thinking (and that would not be incorrect) but Bukowski doesn't want more mediocrity in the world of writing.

You cannot argue for mediocrity in any field. But at the same time you cannot ignore the fact that in order to produce great work, a person must first put in tremendous amounts of effort to become a competent writer. And that involves long hours of practice and dedication. One of my professors in my Ph.D. program, who is among the top three most highly cited researchers in my field had told me that he did not consider himself a talented researcher or writer at all. Instead, he thought of himself as at best a man with average capabilities. But he had exceedingly high levels of grit that made him work hard for more than anyone else, and that's what gave him the edge in the end.

So, while I agree with Bukowski's sentiment that we should strive to write better and produce great works of art, I think we should never forget the effort it takes to become a skilled writer. Hard work, determination, and practice are necessary components of becoming a great writer. This means toiling away at it, and not giving up despite the difficulty of the task. During these times of frustration and difficulty, it is important to ignore Bukowski's advice of "don't do it." Instead, you still do it!

You have to sit there and write even when it is hard because that is the only way for you to develop the capacities that facilitate the experience of those rare moments of Maa Saraswati's grace where everything just flows effortlessly. You have to go through the grind to experience the euphoria. There is no other way!

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Reflecting back on 2022

A calendar year is just a humanly created construct. Our lives don't change dramatically from one year to the next just because a number changed on the calendar. And to a large extent that would be true about my life in the year 2022. It was a year of mostly doing the same things that I had been doing in the years before: teaching, researching, writing, exercising, singing, and spending time with my family and friends, although because of the distance constraints, the interaction with my family and some friends was only limited to phone and video calls. Does that mean that nothing really stood out in 2022?  Not quite. 2022 was a significant year in many ways that provided many opportunities to both celebrate life and learn life lessons.

A Few Achievements

2022 will go down in my personal history as being the year I published my first book, "Managing by Dharma: Eternal Principles for Sustaining Profitability"; Dr. Suresh Kalagnanam, an Accounting Professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada co-authored the book with me. Later in the year, I also won a small grant to write a second book. If things go well, it should be out sometime in 2023.

Music, although not my profession, is an integral part of my life, so I must reflect on whether I succeeded in developing in this area. How much I developed would be for others to judge but I was definitely more consistent with my vocal practice this year than I had been in the past. I still have a long way to go, but I believe the greater consistency did help me make some improvements in my vocal skills and music repertoire.

A significant aspect of 2022 is that I reoriented my focus back to health. Most of my friends know me to be a very fit guy who runs marathons and ultras, and is also pretty fast at that. But the truth is that I had been neglecting my health for quite some time. This decline was stark to me when I went on a hiking trip to the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks this Summer. The first day of hiking went well; it was a relatively easy solo hike. But on the second day when I decided to attempt a difficult peak, I was left behind by a couple of younger hikers who moved much faster than me while I was huffing and puffing my way up the mountain. For a man who had in the past run ultra-marathons on mountains, this was extremely frustrating. The climbs did become easier during the latter part of my stay at Yellowstone but the initial struggles were an excellent wake-up call. I realized what I had been doing wrong. Although I had stayed fairly consistent with my exercise habits, the extent to which I exercised was mostly maintenance-level. More importantly, I had been eating and drinking too much junk stuff over the past few years. The effects of these bad habits may not have been visible to others but I was starting to see a decline in my strength, speed, and stamina. Still, the realization did not lead to any overnight changes in my habits. Inertia is a  real thing and it took me months to make small incremental changes, falter, and try again. But I can say that the momentum has picked up recently. If I succeed in maintaining this, then 2023 could turn out to be the year when I succeed in achieving certain personal goals that I have related to fitness.

2022 was a significant year from a psycho-emotional standpoint as well. When you are living alone and away from your family, you occasionally feel very lonely. During these times you tend to ignore the positive aspects of your life. Your focus shifts to the one thing you don't have instead of being grateful for the many things you do have. The good news is that as 2022 progressed, the episodes of me feeling lonely reduced significantly. I started feeling greater contentment in my own company. I am not sure how this happened. Maybe some life events gave me a bit better perspective on life. Maybe it was meditation. Maybe the small modifications in dietary habits influenced it. Or maybe it was the grace of powers above. Whatever it was, I am rarely if ever lonely now. I am grateful for this and hope that I succeed in maintaining this higher level of contentment as I move into 2023.

Major Losses

In all the years that I have lived so far on this Earth, 2022 is the year where I lost the maximum number of close people to me. Death is of course an inevitable part of life, and if you live long enough, you are bound to have to say goodbye to many people you love. However, this year the numbers were staggering, even compared to the deaths that happened during the peak of the Covid-19 period.

The first death happened at the very beginning of January 2022 with the passing of my friend, Shamim Ahmed. Shamim Sir was an intellectually honest and courageous man. He was in his 70s and had become weak due to cancer, but periodically we still used to meet and engage in intellectual conversations about science, religion, philosophy, and life. He was also a big supporter and admirer of my singing. Losing him was sad.

Then in mid-February, I lost my classmate from my undergrad years, Mousumi Bhowmik. Mousumi was a very close friend and a big supporter of all my work. She had been battling cancer but had been in remission, so her death came as a huge shock. The loss of any friend is always difficult but the untimely death of Mousumi was a particularly difficult one for me to process.

Then in March, I lost my maternal grandmother. She had gotten extremely frail and was suffering a lot for the past couple of years. So her death brought a sense of relief that she no longer had to bear the pain. Still, the emptiness that she left behind was immense. The fond memories that I have of her make me believe that she will continue to shower her love and blessings from wherever she is now.

There was some respite for a few months and then suddenly in September I got the news that a colleague and close friend from my Tata Motors days, Ravi Koganti had passed away. I hadn't met Ravi in a very long time but we had stayed in touch. We shared a lot of values, including resilience and passion for Hindu dharma. An interesting fact about Ravi was that he had nicknamed me "Professor" long before I took to academics and actually become one. Obviously, he saw in me qualities that I hadn't realized myself. Again, a big loss.

In October came another bad news of the sudden tragic death of one of my Ph.D. professors, Dr. Timothy Baldwin. He had been a strong cheerleader of my teaching and research work. He had even visited me once in Fort Wayne. It was difficult to come to terms with the fact that a person who was a fountain of positive energy would suddenly not exist anymore. 

The last death happened in December and that was of my colleague in my current workplace, Dr. Max Montesino. Max was also a person bubbling with positive energy. He was planning for early retirement in December so that he could just focus on writing books, traveling, and enjoying life with his family, but in October he was suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumor. He underwent surgery and was recovering fairly well but then things suddenly took a turn for the worse and he passed away in early December.

2022 was also the year when a few of my favorite musicians passed away: Lata Mangeskar, Bappi Lahiri, KK, and Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma. These weren't people I knew personally but through their music, they had had a strong impact on my life. Generally, I feel that musicians tend to take a special place in our hearts because of the emotions they evoke in us through their music. Losing these legends was certainly not anywhere near as painful as the loss of a family member and close friends, but the untimely and sudden death of KK did force me to reflect deeply on the ephemerality and fragility of life.

Final Reflections

Looking back at 2022, I am grateful to be alive and healthy. I am grateful for the absolutely wonderful people I have in my life. But what 2022 also taught me was this: if you want to do something, don't wait for the right moment. They say life is too short. Life may not exactly be short but our current life is certainly finite and you never know when your time will be up. We human beings are extremely strong, resilient, and resourceful species, but the laws of nature are infinitely more powerful. Thus, the life force within ourselves while being very strong can also be very short-lived, especially if we do not take care of our health. Life is indeed very fragile and needs to be handled with utmost care. Of course, we all know this at an intellectual level but we tend to get caught up in unhealthy habits and patterns. We engage in meaningless pursuits that slowly and gradually decrease the quality of our lives. So, it is important to periodically take breaks from our mindless routines and reflect on our experiences, relationships, and purpose in life. Doing so might not add years to our life (if you subscribe to the idea that we are all born with a finite number of days on this planet) but it will certainly add life to the number of years we live on this planet.

Friday, September 16, 2022


From a spirited childhood
To a spiritual adulthood 
From embodied joy
To embodying stress

From the simplicity of being 
To the complexities of doing  
You move through
The first half of your life.

You become spiritual
Not to seek the Divine
But to fulfill your material desires 
And to cope with inevitable failures.

You accept the limited
In place of the unlimited.
What should have freed you
Instead imprisons you.

This journey continues
With many twists and turns
Your spirits rise and fall
With every ebb and flow.

Until that day
When you become aware
Of your true nature
That is Sat-Chit-Ananda.

For most of us
It happens slowly but surely
You get disentangled
From your self delusions.

One by one
You drop your masks
And the defenses
You had built over the years.

They had to go
Because they could not
Hide you from Yourself
Or protect You from you.

You feel a little vulnerable
But also much lighter
You shed the dead weight
And then the Spirit soars.

This is the beginning
Of a new journey
A return to your childhood
To a life of simplicity and joy.

Where you can move
Beyond false pretensions
Of being spiritual
To being spirited again.

Photo Credit: Robert Collins on Unsplash